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Skin cancer: getting back to basics

02 September 2022
Volume 33 · Issue 9


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK. Claire Machin and Jayne Alchorne provide an overview of the causes of skin cancer, patients most at risk and provide advice for when and how to refer for specialist advice, as well as information on prevention

The article aims to provide a timely refresher to all health professionals working in primary care on skin cancer. Our interaction with patients, no matter what form it takes, places us in a unique and privileged position to observe and protect patients from a potentially disfiguring and life-threatening skin cancer. The skin is easily accessible, which enables the early detection and referral of potential skin cancers. This article will explore what causes skin cancer, patients most at risk, define the different types and most common forms of skin cancer, and provide advice for when and how to refer for specialist advice. The fundamental principles of sun safety will also be explored to ensure skin cancer prevention remains at the forefront of agendas.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, but thankfully most skin cancers can be cured if detected early. Skin cancer is an umbrella term for two main sub-types: melanoma and non-melanoma (basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)), which are named after their cell origin (Cancer Research UK, 2021). However, there are other types which are rare. A melanoma skin cancer often poses the most significant threat to life. However, non-melanoma cancers are responsible for significant disease burden and account for 90% of all skin cancers registered in the UK and Ireland (The National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service, 2022). In 2015 more than 142 000 non-melanoma cases were diagnosed – 80% BCC and 20% SCC – an increase of 77% between 1994 and 2014 (Jones et al, 2020). However, these figures represent an underestimation of the true impact of disease, as only first tumours are recorded. The burden of disease is relentless and on the increase; therefore, health professionals must educate themselves to better screen for skin cancers, provide advice to patients and ensure they are referred appropriately and receive timely care.

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