When we search for medical information online, it’s easy to self-diagnose yourself with the first piece of information that roughly matches your symptoms. However, many people who self-diagnose themselves after reading an article online don’t have the medical experience to make an accurate judgment of their symptoms. This is why it’s strongly advised to visit your GP if you notice a sudden change in your skin, or if you’ve noticed a skin-related issue that you’re uncomfortable with.
One of the most overlooked skin cancers is melanoma, mainly because symptoms can sometimes be difficult to spot or misidentified. Although 86% of skin cancers are preventable in the UK, thousands of people are still putting their selves at risk by not following simple sun care duties.
While our skin does go through a natural aging process, it’s important to be on the lookout for any immediate or obvious changes to your skin. This may be the appearance of a new mole or patch of skin that wasn’t there before. If you do notice such a change, it’s strongly advised to contact your GP or a dermatologist to ensure nothing is out of the ordinary.
Identifying Types of Skin Cancer
There are various treatment types for skin cancers. Your treatment will depend entirely on both the type of skin cancer and its severity. As some skin cancers may be more aggressive or advanced than others, specialist treatment may be required, which may involve minor surgery to ensure all the cancer is removed.
Bav Shergill of The McIndoe Centre explains 3 of the most successful skin cancer treatments below:
Topical treatments have seen exceptional success treating actinic keratosis (AK), that are very common pre-cancerous lesions. They develop when the skin has been left exposed to the sun without adequate protection. There are various topical treatments that used to treat AK, but Efudix, Picato and Aldara are renowned for their exceptional success rates. However, these topical treatments can be used to treat other types of skin cancer. Below is a detailed insight into the topical treatments:
Efudix is a type of chemotherapy cream that is applied to the affected area of the skin. This cream should be applied twice a day for a month (unless directed otherwise by your doctor). During your treatment, your skin will turn red, with scabbing and weeping being common symptoms. This is completely normal and is simply part of the cream treating the cancerous area. After your treatment month is over, your skin should begin to heal over the following 2-3 weeks and a full recovery is expected.
Picato is very quick to work, with the solution taking effect after only 2-3 applications. Similar to Efudix, Picato will turn your skin red but this again, is simply the cream targeting the cancerous cells within the affected area. You may experience peeling and some light scabbing, but it’s very important to avoid picking at the area during this phase. Your skin will start to heal and generally look better after 2 weeks.
Aldara has seen success treating minor forms of skin cancer, specifically basal cell carcinoma. In a similar light to Picato, Aladara gets to work quickly and you should notice your skin turning red and becoming sensitive after only 1-2 treatments. While Aladara can be used for up to four months, this is up to the severity of your cancer and the discretion of your dermatologist.
While the above treatments work in slightly different ways, they have an exceptional cure rate, so much so that your skin should appear healthy after your selected treatment course has ended.
Photodynamic therapy (otherwise known as PDT), the treatment combines a cream-based sensitiser with a specific wavelength light. Once the sensitiser has been applied to the affected area of skin, a 630mm wavelength light is then used to highlight and eliminate the remaining cancer cells. You can expect your skin to be slightly red and sore after treatment, but you should make a full recovery within 1-2 weeks.
Another advantage of PDT is that it’s able to identify skin cancers that may not be visible to the naked eye. This treatment also comes with no visible scarring, leaving your skin looking healthy.
Mohs surgery is widely regarded as one of the most successful skin cancer treatments. The treatment involves removing the cancer alongside a thin layer of healthy skin to ensure no cancerous cells have affected the healthy skin. Once the thing layer of healthy skin has been removed, it’s checked under a microscope to identify any cancerous cells. If cells around found, another thin layer of skin will be removed. This process is repeated until no cancer remains.
while the surgery itself is very short, the day of surgery can be long because each time a layer of skin is removed it must be checked, which can take a few hours. In most cases, treatment is finished in just one day.
Mohs surgery sees a 95% success rate for patients who have had no previous skin cancer treatment, and that statistic only drops marginally for those who have previously had skin cancer treatment. Additionally, Mohs surgery is only performed by specially trained dermatologists and remains as one of the best procedures for removing skin cancer.
Skin cancers can be treated using a number of techniques, but self-diagnosis through researching on the internet is not advised. If you do notice a sudden change to your skin, it’s strongly advised you get in touch with a doctor to ensure it’s nothing serious. Additionally, you can reduce the risk of skin cancer by applying sun protection during the hotter (and even colder) months.
This article was written by Rowan Joseph-Lake, in collaboration with Bav Shergill BSc, MBBS, MRCP, Consultant Dermatologist. Bav is a Consultant Dermatologist at Brighton General Hospital and Queen Victoria Hospital, East Grinstead.