Skin cancer 

Skin cancer expert Barry Powell explains what skin cancer is, the questions to ask if you’re diagnosed and the treatment options.

Find out more about skin cancer

Transcript of Skin cancer

My name's Barry Powell. I'm a plastic surgeon,

but I have a particular interest in skin cancer,

and my hospital base is St George's Hospital in Tooting in South London.

When we talk about these skin cancers,

one called basal cell carcinoma

and the other which is called squamous cell carcinoma,

these are skin cancers that probably present

as a lump or an ulcer on the skin.

They're commonly seen in the head and neck area,

because that's the part of you

that is exposed predominantly to the outside world,

and they're usually very slow to present.

They start usually as a little lump or a spot,

you think nothing about it, it looks as if it's getting better,

and then the next time you look at it,

it seems to have broken down and is not healing.

But the main way that it is diagnosed is with a biopsy,

and that is where you take a little piece, as a sample,

under a local anaesthetic, to be examined by the pathologist.

For a lot of the specialists who deal with skin cancer,

they can usually look at it and make the diagnosis without the biopsy,

but if there's any concern, we would recommend a biopsy.

The problem with basal cell carcinoma

is it's got this word "cancer" associated with it,

and that always worries people.

I think the first thing to say is not to worry.

Although it's called a cancer, it is very easily treated.

A number of ways they can be treated.

Sometimes basal cell carcinomas can be treated by your local practitioner

and they can be treated by freezing,

sometimes you can use creams,

sometimes you can literally scrape them off,

or what most people like to do is to cut them out.

In certain areas, they may be treated by radiotherapy

or by other forms of something similar to laser therapy.

The interesting thing with basal cell carcinoma

is that if you remove it, and it has been completely removed,

the chances of you having further problems

with that particular one are remote.

But as this occurs in sun-damaged area,

any other part of your body that has sun damage

could also develop another skin cancer,

and that is not unusual, so you must be vigilant

and look out for any other thing

that was similar to the first lump that you had.

The thing with basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma

is that the people, once again, who are at risk

are people who have had long-term sun exposure.

So it's very common in the United Kingdom,

and we tend to see them in people who live an outdoor existence,

the very fair-skinned people, also possible that they can get it,

and there are some people who can just in their genes predispose them.

Although that's not common, there are a small group where that can happen.

With some people who have had transplants

where they've had organs donated

and they are on strong drugs to stop them rejecting their organs,

that too can also make them very susceptible

to developing these forms of skin cancers,

and they should be monitored very closely.

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