Skin cancer is the commonest form of cancer affecting people in the U.K. and worldwide. The commonest varieties, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non-melanoma skin cancers while the third commonest type is malignant melanoma.
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What causes Skin Cancer?
Exposure to sunlight is often a major factor in the development of skin cancer, and the number of cases in the U.K. is on the rise, despite highly publicised warnings against excessive tanning. People with paler skins present a higher risk of developing skin cancer as they are more vulnerable to damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.
What are the symptoms/types of Skin Cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancers are generally slow to develop or spread, while melanoma can be much more aggressive and therefore poses a greater threat. It is always a good idea to keep an eye on any moles on the skin, as the signs of malignant melanoma will usually manifest themselves as changes in the appearance of moles.
How can it be prevented?
Protecting your skin is, of course, always the best course of action, but if your skin has already been damaged by the sun and presents some changes that you find worrying, make sure you seek professional advice. If you are looking for a private skin cancer clinic, Stratum Clinics with clinics and dermatologists across London, in Oxford, Canterbury and Cheltenham can offer you a consultation and if necessary, treatment.
Our chief clinical director has undertaken and published research on the subject, and it remains one of his specialist areas. The earlier you seek treatment, the more likely you are to have a better result.
What Skin Cancer treatments are available?
This is a special surgical technique for removing certain types of skin cancer which allows us to map the excision margins microscopically.
As far as is possible, this means we know the cancer has been completely removed and because we are checking the entire margin it often means we conserve tissue which would have to have been removed if the tumour was excised with standard margins.
This is particularly valuable when treating sites which are functionally or aesthetically crucial such as around the eye. The procedure is done under local anaesthesia and after the tissue has been removed it is prepared and processed by a biomedical scientist before the doctor examines the sections under a microscope. Further tissue is removed as necessary and the process continued until the margins are negative. The wound can then be repaired as appropriate.
Surgical excision is an operation to remove the cancer by cutting it out, along with surrounding healthy tissue to ensure the cancer is completely removed.
It may be carried out in combination with a skin graft, which involves removing a patch of healthy skin, usually from hidden parts of the body. It’s then connected (grafted) to the affected area.
In most cases, surgery is enough to cure non-melanoma skin cancer.
Curettage and electrocautery is a similar technique to surgical excision, but only suitable in cases where the cancer is quite small.
The surgeon will use a small blade to scrape off the cancer before burning (cauterising) the skin to remove any remaining cancer cells and seal the wound. The procedure may need to be repeated two or three times to ensure the cancer is completely removed.
Cryotherapy uses cold treatment to destroy the cancer. Liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the cancer, and this causes the area to scab over.
After about a month, the scab containing the cancer will fall off your skin. Cryotherapy may leave a small white scar on your skin.
Anti-cancer creams are also used for certain types of non-melanoma skin cancers. They are only recommended when the tumour is contained within the top layer of the skin, such as early basal cell carcinoma and Bowen’s disease.
The two main types of anti-cancer cream are:
- chemotherapy creams – these contain a medication called 5-fluorouracil
- immune stimulating creams – these contain a medication called imiquimod
For non-melanoma skin cancer, chemotherapy creams containing 5-fluorouracil are used.
The cream is applied to the affected area for a number of weeks.
As only the surface of the skin is affected, you won’t experience the side effects associated with other forms of chemotherapy, such as vomiting or hair loss. However, your skin may feel sore for several weeks afterwards.
Imiquimod cream is used to treat basal cell carcinomas with a diameter of less than 20mm. It’s also used to treat Bowen’s disease and actinic keratoses.
Imiquimod encourages your immune system to attack the cancer in the skin and is used over a number of weeks.
Here at Stratum Clinics we use photodynamic therapy (PDT) to remove certain types of superficial precancerous lesions which affect the skin, including basal cell carcinomas, Bowen’s disease, and actinic keratoses.
This modern treatment is safe and highly effective in removing precancerous lumps and patches, without causing any damage to the surrounding healthy cells. PDT manipulates the chemical interaction between light and a light-activated drug, leading to a series of chemical reactions that kill off any diseased cells, leaving healthy cells intact, and reducing the potential for scarring.
PDT may cause a burning sensation and may leave scarring, although this is usually less than for surgery.