Urgent warning to millions at risk of killer cancer – the 5 signs to watch for

CASES of killer cancer have hit record highs in England, experts have warned.

Skin cancer diagnoses have increased dramatically, with one in five people affected in their lifetime.

Experts think it is a combination of an aging population and that more people seek out sunshine on foreign holidays.

It could also be linked to an improvement in spotting and diagnosing cancers.

There were 224,000 skin cancers recorded in England in 2019 and more than 1.4 million between 2013 and 2019, according to figures analysed by NHS Digital and the British Association of Dermatologists.

It found a 26 per cent rise in recorded cases, from 177,677 in 2013 to 224,092 in 2019.

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Dr Tanya Bleiker, president of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: "We are fast approaching a quarter of a million skin cancer cases a year in England.

"To put this in context, we estimate that one in five people will have a skin cancer in their lifetime.

"While more needs to be done to prevent skin cancer in this country, we also need to increase the resources available to tackle the rise in cases.

"Currently, it is estimated that there is the equivalent of 508 full-time consultant dermatologists working in England.

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"If these doctors and their colleagues are to meet the challenge of managing a quarter of million skin cancer cases a year, then they will need more resources and better workforce planning."

A breakdown of the data shows there were 15,332 melanomas in 2019, up from 12,885 in 2013.

Melanoma is less common than some other types of skin cancer, but can be more deadly and more likely to spread.

There were also 47,977 cutaneous squamous cell carcinomas in 2019, up from 34,672 in 2013.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer and, when caught early, is mostly curable.

Symptoms of skin cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world.

Non-melanoma cancers are more common than melanomas, with 100,000 new cases being diagnosed every year in the UK.

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that continues to persist after a few weeks, and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years.

Melanomas, on the other hand, is often characterised by a mole.

There are two common types of non-melanoma:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma (accounts for 75 per cent of skin cancers): usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a waxy appearance. It can also look like a red, scaly patch. There's sometimes some brown or black pigment within the patch. The lump slowly gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma(accounts for the other 20 per cent): appears as a firm pink lump with a rough or crusted surface. There can be a lot of surface scale and sometimes even a spiky horn sticking up from the surface. The lump is often tender to touch, bleeds easily and may develop into an ulcer.


The most common sign is a new mole or a change in an existing mole.

In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour. The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed. Look out for a mole which changes progressively in shape, size and/or colour.

The ABCDE checklist should help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma:

  • Asymmetrical – melanomas have 2 very different halves and are an irregular shape
  • Border – melanomas have a notched or ragged border
  • Colours – melanomas will be a mix of 2 or more colours
  • Diameter – most melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter
  • Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma

Source: NHS

The data found there were 158,934 basal cell carcinomas in 2019, up from 128,406 in 2013.

Basal cell carcinoma does not usually spread. It often appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance. It can also look like a red, scaly patch.

There were 1,849 rare skin cancers in 2019, up from 1,714 in 2013.

Data on life expectancy after a cancer diagnosis shows that around 100 per cent of people whose melanoma is caught early are still alive five years later.

But at the most advanced stage, this drops to 25 per cent.

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