First, it is important to understand how the skin works. The skin does many amazing things; it protects the body from injury, regulates the body’s temperature and controls loss of fluids while at the same time getting rid of waste substances in the form of sweat.
The skin is divided into an outer layer which is called the epidermis and an inner layer called the dermis. Underneath these layers are fatty tissues. The epidermis contains three different cells; the most common cells are known as squamous cells, below them are basal cells and in between the basal cells are cells called melanocytes which produce melanin. This is the pigment that gives skin its colour.
It is these cells that are can change and mutate which causes skin cancer. There are three main types of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma
Also known as BCC, this is a cancer of basal cells. This is the most common form of skin cancer – thought to account for more than 75% of skin cancer cases in the UK. However, they are relatively slow growing and do not tend to move to other parts of the body. Most BCCs result in complete recovery.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Known also as SCC, this is cancer of the squamous cells which are in the very top layer of the skin. It is thought to make up approximately 20% of skin cancer cases in the UK. Again, this type of skin cancer is relatively slow growing and rarely spread. However they can be more aggressive than BCCs and spread quickly. Most patients are cured completely if it is caught early enough.
This is the least common type of skin cancer – over 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with this form of skin cancer annually. It behaves very differently to BCC and SCC and early detection and treatment is key.
Moles occur when melanocytes – the cells that produce melanin in the skin – are grouped together. Most people with white skin have about ten to twenty moles on their skin, although some people can have as many as 100. These moles are not a cause for concern.
However, a melanoma occurs when melanocyte cells spread and multiply. This can appear as what looks like a new mole or there can be a change to an existing mole. Most melanomas will have an irregular shape and may have more than one colour and at The Specialist Skin Clinic we are experienced in assessing moles that may be a cause for concern.
Although malignant melanomas are not as common as BCC or SCC, number are on the rise. The main cause of melanomas are over-exposure to sunlight or artificial UV radiation in the form of sunbeds. Another risk group are those with a very high numbers of moles on the body.
If caught early enough, the majority of melanoma cases respond very well to treatment. However, if untreated, it can spread aggressively to other parts of the body and prove fatal.
If you have any moles that are a cause for concern or a new and unusual spot or lesion on the body, it is important that you seek assessment immediately. At the Specialist Skin Clinic, we have specially trained nurses and dermatologists who are qualified and experienced in both assessing moles and lesions and offering advice and treatment if necessary.
For those patients that have a very high number of moles on the body, we also offer the valuable Mole Mapping service. This is a photographic record, taken annually, that makes monitoring of high numbers of moles possible and any changes are easily and quickly pinpointed.