Skin cancer kills 2,500 Brits every year – but when diagnosed early enough, it remains extremely treatable.
While most of us know we should watch out for new or changing moles, some of the more unusual signs might take you by surprise – and save your life.
Melanoma is the deadliest form and can spread to other parts of the body – 16,000 new cases are diagnosed annually. But what early signs should you be looking for?
“If you have a scar-like patch of skin which appears entirely out of nowhere and continually grows it could be a sign of basal cell carcinoma (BCC),” explains Dr Ross Perry, medical director of Cosmedics skin clinics (cosmedics.co.uk).
“This is a cancer that grows on parts of your skin that are exposed to a lot of sun.
It might look skin-coloured, waxy, like a scar or a thickened area of skin. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and fortunately it’s also the least risky type as long as you get it checked out early.”
Pearly lesions on the eyelids
Most people don’t realise that eyelids are a common place for skin cancer as it’s an area many of us miss when applying sun lotion.
“Around 85-95 per cent of eyelid cancers in non-Asian countries are basal cell skin cancers,” says Dr Perry. “Malignant (cancerous) growths on the eyelid can appear brown, black, red or flesh-coloured (pearly-looking).
“They may be crusty or sore, itchy and tender and appear shiny and waxy looking.
“It is important to be aware of any changes such as appearance, shape, colour and growth.”
To protect your eyelids from UV exposure, wear sunglasses, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat, which can block out up to half of the sun’s UV rays from eyes and eyelids.
Black marks under nails
“Subungual melanoma, which can appear under a toenail or fingernail, can easily be mistaken for a bruise,” says Dr Perry.
Most often these appear under the nails of your thumb or big toe and are often caused by repeated injury or trauma to those areas. “Subungual melanoma can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated so it’s important to get checked out as soon as you can,” he warns.
Skin cancer on the scalp is more common in men and comes in three forms.
“Basal cell carcinoma can appear on the scalp but are relatively low risk and less rare,” says Dr Perry.
“Squamous cell carcinoma can also be found on the scalp and are more common on those with fair skin who are often exposed to the sun. These can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, rough, thickened or wart-like skin, or raised growths with a central depression that may itch or bleed.
“Melanoma, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer, can also be found on the scalp and will appear as a mole or skin growth.
“It’s perfectly normal to have moles on the scalp but if you notice it changing shape, texture or colour it needs to be looked at. If you notice any unusual patches of skin on your scalp, see your GP or dermatologist immediately.”
A sore that won’t heal
If you’ve noticed you have a sore that hasn’t got better within four weeks and seems to be getting worse, then get it checked out by your GP.
“A sore that doesn’t heal can appear as lumpy, dry and scaly and it could well be a basal cell carcinoma,” warns Dr Perry.
“The sore may also be itchy, bleed and look crusty in appearance with scabs that form.
“Again the best thing to do is get it looked at early.”
Insect bites that don’t go away
Being ravaged by mozzies is hardly uncommon during the warmer months, but sometimes those little red bumps can be something more serious.
“You might think you’ve been bitten but insect bites tend to go away within a couple of weeks or gradually fade and get smaller,” explains Dr Perry.
“If something isn’t disappearing and resembles a bite, it could be entirely harmless but it could also be a sign of skin cancer. So if it’s persistent and causing discomfort, see a doctor.”
A pale patch of skin on the head or neck
“A BCC can appear as a pale patch of smooth or pearly/white skin on the head or neck,” says Dr Perry.
“It tends to occur on skin which is frequently exposed to the sun, so most often appears on the face, head and neck. I’d recommend that if you notice anything unusual on the skin that shows no sign of going away after four weeks then book an appointment with your GP or dermatologist.
“It can be helpful to take photos to monitor changes. It can be more difficult to notice changes on darker skin so get a friend or family member to help do your checks.”