Non-melanoma skin cancer: the warning signs to watch out for

signs of non-melanoma skin cancer

As temperatures rise and summer beckons, it’s unsurprising that May’s focus is skin cancer and sun awareness. The British Association of Dermatologists has long campaigned for greater knowledge of sun safety, and this year, their particular focus is informing the public about non-melanoma skin cancer and how best to check your skin.

Although most of us are aware of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, recent research has found that more people are now dying of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) than malignant melanoma.

Conducted by researchers in France, the study analysed data collected by the World Health Organisation and found that non-melanoma skin cancer accounted for more deaths worldwide. Worryingly, they thought this number could even be higher as NMSC is sometimes left out of national cancer registries’ figures as it is considered less serious than other types of cancer.

What is non-melanoma skin cancer?

As with melanoma, NMSC is linked to exposure to UV rays through the sun or tanning beds. Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer rates have increased by a third and NMSC by 42% in the UK as our attitudes to tanning and sun exposure have changed.

“It is vital we protect our skin from UV rays whether it is from sunlight or sun beds. In my opinion sun beds should have a health warning, considering the risk they carry,” comments GP London W1’s Dr Ravi Brar.

Melanoma is caused by mutations in skin cells called melanocytes, whereas NMSC usually develops in cells in the epidermis, or outermost layer of skin. The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, accounting for about 75% of skin cancers, and squamous cell carcinoma, accounting for about 20% of skin cancers.

Signs of non-melanoma skin cancer

Whether for melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancer, early detection is critical. More than 75% of NMSCs are first noticed by patients or people close to them, so it is vital to recognise the early warning signs.

  • appearance of a lump or patch on the skin that doesn’t heal after a few weeks
  • cancerous lumps are typically red, firm, and shiny
  • cancerous patches are often flat, scaly, and irregularly shaped
  • a sore that won’t heal
  • a growth with raised edges
  • a wart-like growth that might bleed or crust over
  • a skin lesion that itches

Certain risk factors, such as a family history, pale skin that burns easily, and a large number of moles or freckles, can increase one’s chances of developing NMSC.

“Mole mapping serves as a valuable tool for monitoring individuals who have numerous moles and skin lesions, especially those that are large or have irregular shapes, as well as individuals with a personal or family history of skin cancer,” Dr Brar explains.

“If a patient has concerns with any of their skin lesions, it is important for them to seek appropriate guidance. With the aide of dermoscopy, these lesions can be assessed at higher magnifications thus helping with its diagnosis.”

“I developed an interest in skin and skin health about five years ago. The skin is our largest organ, and it’s the first thing everyone sees. If you’re unwell in any way, changes to your skin are often the first sign. The skin is amazing, and it is important knowing how and when to protect it and when to seek help.”

If you’ve noticed any concerning skin changes, book an appointment with one of our GPs.