10 Essential Facts About Skin Cancer

Melanoma skin cancer is fifth most common type of cancer in the UK. Cases of melanoma have doubled in the last ten years with around 16,000 new cases every year. Whether you’re worried about a mole or just want to be informed, it’s good to know the facts about melanoma and other forms of skin cancer – especially since it can often be safely treated if it’s detected early.  

US study found that women who had five painful sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 were 80% more likely to develop melanoma.

1. 86% of skin melanoma cancer cases are preventable.

Protecting yourself from the sun is the most effective way to prevent melanoma skin cancer. A US study found that women who had five painful sunburns between the ages of 15 and 20 were 80% more likely to develop melanoma. You can protect yourself by using sunscreen with at least SPF 30, seeking shade when it’s sunny and avoiding sunbed use. Newborns should avoid sun exposure.

2. 90% of people survive melanoma skin cancer for 10 years or more.

Skin cancer is most safely removed with early detection. A Consultant Dermatologist can perform a biopsy on a mole that has recently changed its appearance to determine whether it’s benign or malignant. If results show it’s malignant, it may require further surgery to complete treatment

3. 9 in 10 melanoma skin cancer cases are caused by the sun.

Exposure to UV rays from the sun can damage your skin cells and cause them to start growing out of control. You’re at risk of unprotected exposure to UV rays even while you’re sitting in your car. Getting a sunburn just once every two years can triple your risk of developing melanoma, so it’s important for children to protect their skin using sunscreen or protective clothing.

4. 6 people die from melanoma skin cancer every day.

There are around 2,400 deaths from melanoma skin cancer in the UK every year. Melanoma accounts for 1% of all cancer deaths in this country, making it the 20th most common cause of cancer death. More men than women die from melanoma, although the mortality rate is highest in elderly people, especially in people aged 90 plus.

5. Smoking can cause skin cancer.

A recent Leiden Skin Cancer Study of 1,126 people found that smoking is associated with an increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer. The study also found that smoking tobacco in higher doses – such as smoking pipes – lead to a higher risk than smoking cigarettes.

6. 1 in 10 of melanoma cases run in the family.

About 10% of all melanoma skin cancer cases came from multiple-case families according to the National Cancer Institute. The study looked at a variety of determining factors in each case, including skin fairness, history of sunburns, excessive sun exposure, moles, weakened immune system and exposure to certain substances (like arsenic).

7. There are three common types of skin cancer.

Most people don’t realise this. They are:

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma, also known as rodent ulcer, is the most common form of skin cancer. They grow very slowly and do not spread to other areas of the body. They can be treated in almost every case, but treatment becomes more complicated if they have been neglected for a long period of time, so early detection is important.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer, but it’s more dangerous since it can spread to the tissues, bones and nearby lymph nodes. Early intervention is critical because if squamous cell carcinoma spreads to other regions in the body it becomes much harder to treat.


Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, but it poses the largest health risk. It’s becoming more common in the UK due to increased exposure to intense sunlight on holidays abroad. If melanoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, surgery is usually successful. It’s safest to see a Consultant Dermatologist if you’re worried about melanoma.

There is no such thing as healthy tanning.

8. Sun beds increase your risk of melanoma by up to 20%.

Melanoma skin cancer can develop in areas that have been damaged by UV rays, which is what sun beds emit to give you a tan. They’re often marketed as a safe way of getting a tan, buts they’re not – in fact, using sun beds regularly can damage your skin more quickly than the sun, leaving it wrinkled and leathery. Cancer Research UK states: “There is no such thing as healthy tanning.”

9. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body.

A freckle inside your eye might be ocular or eye melanoma; the eyelid is a common area for skin cancers like basal cell and squamous cell. While your legs and your trunk are most at risk from developing melanoma, skin cancer can be found in areas that never see the sun, such as the buttocks, inside the vagina and underneath the penis. When a dermatologist does a check up, they may ask you to spread your toes to see if skin cancer has formed there.

10. The signs of skin cancer

The lumps and moles on your body may vary in their size, shape and texture, but it’s important to know the signs that a lump could be cancerous. Here’s what to look for:

  • Asymmetry – Half of the mole or spot doesn’t match the other half.
  • Border irregularity – The edges aren’t smooth but are ragged or notched.
  • Color – The coloration may be a mixture of tan, brown, and black. There may also be moles that are red, white, and blue in color.
  • Diameter – A mole that is larger than ¼ inch (6 mm).
  • Evolution – The mole may change in size, shape, and color. It may also become itchy and tender or the surface may change. Often, it will start to bleed. The color of the mole may change as well.
  • Melanomas can look less like a mole and more like a pimple that never heals. There may be symptoms like it oozes, bleeds, or hurts.


Detecting skin cancer early makes it much easier to treat. If you notice any new lumps or changing moles on your skin, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. A qualified and reputable Consultant Dermatologist will be able to perform a biopsy on the lump or mole and provide the most effective treatment if it is malignant. Patients can self-refer directly to a Dermatology Clinic or ask their GP for a referral.

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