Skin cancer: the facts and what to look for

Take care of your skin

As many of us look forward to enjoying the warmer weather with family and friends this year, it’s important to think about your skin health. According to Melanoma UK, non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) is the most common form of cancer in the UK with more than 152,000 new cases diagnosed each year.

But the good news is that most skin cancers can be treated if detected early.

What are the types of skin cancer?

There are two main types of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. 


Melanomas are less common than non-melanomas, but they’re one of the most dangerous forms of skin cancer. They can develop from existing moles, but more often appear as new marks on the skin. In adults, 70 per cent of melanoma cases aren’t associated with existing moles, but form as new marks on the skin, say the British Skin Foundation.

Melanomas can appear on any part of the skin, but they’re most common on the body for men and on the legs for women. The new mark may look like a mole, a flesh coloured bump, a flaky, raised coloured patch or a spot that won’t go away. 

How should I look out for melanomas?

Any changes to your skin can be a concern, but look out for changes in the size, shape or colour of a mark or bleeding, pain, crusting, itching or redness around the edges.

The ABCD system describes some of the things to look out for:

  •  Asymmetry: the two halves of the area differ in shape.
  •  Border: the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches. 
  •  Colour: this may be uneven. You might notice different shades of black, brown and pink. 
  •  Diameter: most melanomas are at least 6 mm in diameter.

Find out more about melanoma skin cancer from the British Skin Foundation website.


Non-melanoma skin cancers are more common than melanomas, but they’re not connected to moles.

The two most common non-melanomas are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common, whilst squamous cell carcinoma is the more dangerous as it’s more likely to spread to other parts of the body. 

How should I look out for non-melanomas?

Non-melanoma skin cancers tend to appear gradually. They can be found anywhere on the body but are most common on the areas of skin most exposed to the sun such as the head, neck, lips, ears and the back of your hands. Old scars, burns, ulcers or wounds that do not heal are also at-risk areas. They will often not be painful. 

  •  A scab or sore that won’t heal. 
  •  A scaly or crusty patch of skin that’s red or inflamed.
  •  A flesh coloured bump that won't go away and increases in size.
  •  A volcano-like growth with a rim and a central crater

The British Skin Foundation website includes information about basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

How can I look after my skin?

Check your skin for moles or marks that are changing, or are new

Once a month, examine all your skin in a well-lit room. It’s important that you have a good understanding of what looks normal for you; that way you can spot any changes. 

It's best to get someone to help you since they can see the areas you can't. If you can't find someone to help, use a full-size mirror and a handheld mirror to see the back of your body. 

  • First, inspect your face and scalp closely. Use a blow dryer or comb so you can see your scalp. Use the mirrors to see the back of your head and neck if alone. 
  • Next, check both sides of your hands (including fingernails and palms) and forearms before moving up to your elbows and upper arms. 
  • Now check your neck, chest and torso. Ladies - don't forget the underside of your breasts. Lift your arms to check your sides. 
  • With assistance from your helper or your mirrors, examine your back, buttocks and back of your legs. 
  • Finally, sit down and check the rest of your legs and genitals. Lastly, check your feet including your soles. 

The app from Miiskin is specially designed to help you to track changes in your skin's appearance. It assists the easy comparison of photos taken at different times so that any changes to your skin can be more easily spotted.

Get changes checked by a doctor straight away

Tell your GP about any changes to a mole or patch of skin, or a new mark on adult skin. If your GP is concerned, they can refer you to our dermatology service.

For more information about our dermatology treatments, or to book a consultation, call our Private Patient team on 01580 363158.

Published on 19 April 2021