Skin Cancer Removal (Small)
Learn everything about your treatment
Learn everything about your treatment
Skin cancer treatment overview
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK. Cancer is a disease which affects the cells of your body and because we have more than one type of skin cell, there is more than one type of skin cancer that exists. This skin cancer treatment overview will help you to understand the different types of skin cancer and the treatment options available for each type.
Before you can understand the different types of skin cancer, it is useful to first have a look at the layers of the skin and the cells it is made up of.
Layers of the skin
The top layer of the skin is known as the epidermis. There are three main types of skin cell in the epidermis:
- The first type of cells are basal cells. These cells make up the bottom layer of your epidermis.
- The second type are melanocytes. Melanocyte cells can be found dotted throughout the basal layer of cells. Melanocytes release a pigment called melanin which acts to protect the skin cells from the sun’s rays.
- The final type of skin cell are keratinocytes. These cells lie in layers above the basal cells and melanocytes. Keratinocytes release a substance called keratin. This is a hard, wax-like substance which provides structure and a protective barrier for our skin.
Types of skin cancer
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
As its name suggests, this cancer develops from the basal cells in the epidermis of the skin. It is the most common type of skin cancer in people with fair skin and is more common in those over the age of 75. Typically, a BCC will develop on an area of skin that has had regular exposure to the sun, e.g the head and neck. Initially, a BCC may have a pink, pearly shine, however this can vary from patient to patient. The lesion will grow slowly and may crust over. It is rare that a BCC will spread to other parts of the body, however if left untreated, it may cause damage to local structures as it continues to grow.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
This is a cancer of the keratinocytes. It is the second most common skin cancer in people with fair skin and is also more common in older people. It is typical for a SCC to develop on the face, particularly around the ears or lips. This lesion may start as a red or pink crusty area and grow to resemble a wart. Furthermore, the SCC may break down and bleed from time to time. As an SCC grows it progresses deeper into the skin and can destroy surrounding structures like the ear and the nose. It also has the potential to spread to other parts of the body, particularly the lymph nodes, if not treated in its early stages of growth.
This type of skin cancer develops from the melanocyte cells. While it is the least common type of skin cancer, it is also the most serious and the most likely to spread to other parts of the body. A melanoma often resembles a mole in the beginning; a small patch of dark pigment. It can grow on a normal part of the skin or on an existing mole. It will then usually begin to develop more suspicious characteristics like:
- An asymmetrical form – the lesion may feel uneven and irregular.
- An irregular border – the edges of the lesion may appear ragged or blurred.
- Multiple colours – the lesion may appear like it contains different shades of colour or pigment.
- Abnormal growth – unlike a mole, the lesion will be larger and will continue to grow in size.
- The ability to evolve – the melanoma may change in size, shape or colour. New symptoms like bleeding, crusting or itching may also appear.
Surgical removal is generally the best treatment option for all types of skin cancer. Some of the additional treatment options available for each type of skin cancer can also be found below:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Surgical removal of the lesion is the best treatment option. Additionally, radiotherapy may be appropriate to treat affected lymph nodes or if the SCC returns.
- Malignant melanoma: This cancer is the most likely to spread to other parts of the body. Consequently, urgent surgical removal is the best treatment option.
This skin cancer treatment overview page gives a very short introduction into skin cancer treatment. For more information, you can visit the NHS website here.