Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Non-melanoma skin cancers are a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin.
They affect more men than women and are more common in the elderly.
The first sign is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that doesn’t go away after a few weeks and slowly gets bigger over months or sometimes years.
In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm and sometimes turn into ulcers, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly.
Non-melanoma skin cancers most often develops on areas of skin regularly exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.
Types of non-melanoma skin cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancers usually develop in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis), and are often named after the type of skin cell from which they develop.
The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are:
- basal cell carcinoma (BCC) – also known as a rodent ulcer, BCC starts in the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis and accounts for about 75% of skin cancers
- squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – starts in the cells lining the top of the epidermis and accounts for about 20% of skin cancer
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance. It can also look like a red, scaly patch.
There's sometimes some brown or black pigment within the patch.
The lump slowly gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) appears as a firm pink lump with a rough or crusted surface. There can be a lot of surface scale and sometimes even a spiky horn sticking up from the surface.
The lump is often tender to touch, bleeds easily and may develop into an ulcer.
Preventing non-melanoma skin cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancer isn't always preventable, but you can reduce your chances of developing it by avoiding overexposure to UV light.
You can protect yourself from sunburn by using high-factor sunscreen, dressing sensibly in the sun, and limiting the amount of time you spend in the sun during the hottest part of the day.
Sunbeds and sunlamps should also be avoided.
When to get medical advice
See your Dr if you have any skin abnormality, such as a lump, ulcer, lesion or skin discolouration that hasn't healed after four weeks. While it's unlikely to be skin cancer, it's best to be sure.