Skin Cancers

There are three common types of skin cancer:

Basal cell carcinoma: Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the commonest type of skin cancer diagnosed in Northern Ireland but also globally. It is most often seen on areas of skin exposed to the sun i.e head and neck. It is a cancer that arises from the small round cells found in the base of the the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). BCC's are sometimes referred to as rodent ulcers. They are usually caused by over exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. People with fair skin are most at risk. If you sunbathe a lot, use sun beds or work outdoors you are at greater risk.

Squamous cell carcinoma: Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is derived from cells (keratinocytes) that form the surface of the skin.  It is the second most common type of skin cancer in the UK. It is usually caused by much too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or sun beds. They are most commonly seen on exposed body parts such as the head and neck including lips and ears and also forearms and hands. SCC has a small risk of spread to other parts of the body (metastasise).

Malignant melanoma: Cutaneous melanoma is a much less common type of skin cancer than basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Although melanoma accounts for only around 10% of all skin cancers it is potentially the most serious type if not treated early. It is a cancer of the pigment cells of the skin (melanocytes). Melanomas develop when the normal pigment cell grows in an uncontrolled way. They can develop in or close to a mole (cluster of normal pigment cells) but can also appear in skin that is normal. Melanoma most commonly appears in women on the legs and in men on the body.

One of the most important causes of melanoma is over exposure to UV light in sunlight or sun beds particularly in the first 20 years of life. The first sign of melanoma is often change in the size shape or colour of a previous mole. It can also appear as new darker area of skin. If you are worried about change in an existing mole or the appearance of  a new mole then have it checked with your family doctor who will refer you to a specialist if there is any doubt. If detected early then the melanoma can be removed before it  has time to spread deeper into the skin or other parts of the body.

Please follow the links on the right for information on how skin cancer is treated in the Belfast Trust.

Please follow the link for more information on the types of skin cancer.

Please note that this section details services provided to adult patients of the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust. Please follow the link for information on Children's Cancers.