Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK and can happen in different forms, including malignant melanoma. This can spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment for malignant skin cancer (or skin excision of malignant lesions) is offered in various forms, including surgery as a way to remove or treat a growth that needs to be dealt with before it becomes worse and spreads.
Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with around 13,000 new cases diagnosed each year, and is triggered by the pigment in skin from tanning.
It usually becomes visible in the form of a new mole, or an existing mole or mark that has changed in appearance. It is often found on the neck, shoulders and hips in men and on the legs, hips and shoulders in women - but can occur in any area of your body.
Your chances of developing melanoma are higher if you have:
You may have been referred by your GP to a specialist clinic or hospital for treatment or further investigations.
The most common way to treat a melanoma is to have it surgically removed together with some of the surrounding healthy tissue and then tested to see if it is cancerous. This is usually performed under local anaesthetic, although general anaesthetic (which means you will be asleep) is sometimes needed.
Radiotherapy (a form of radiation) is also used to treat some forms of skin cancer, to reduce the chance of it coming back after surgery.
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You will have a formal consultation with a healthcare professional. During this time you will be able to explain your medical history, symptoms and raise any concerns that you might have.
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There are several different types of treatment for skin cancer. The one you have will depend on various factors, including the type of cancer and how far it has spread. Surgery to remove the affected skin is often the first option.
Your consultant will discuss the best type of treatment for you depending on the type of skin cancer you have.
One type of surgery is skin excision, where your skin cancer is removed together with some of the surrounding healthy tissue. This is usually performed under local anaesthetic and if the skin cancer is extensive, a skin graft may also be needed.
Mohs’ micrographic surgery is carried out when the cancer is on your face or for large skin lesions. This involves removing the cancer one layer at a time and then examining these layers under a microscope immediately after they are removed.
Photodynamic therapy is used to treat pre-cancerous skin lesions or superficial basal cell carcinomas – a non-melanoma skin cancer. This involves application of a cream which is absorbed only by damaged skin cells. These are then destroyed by shining a light on to the affected area, sometimes removing the need for surgery.
Cryosurgery is a procedure where your surgeon will use extreme cold (liquid nitrogen) to remove your cancer growth.
Most of these treatments can be done using a local anaesthetic, so you will be awake but feel no pain.
Most of the treatments are carried out as a day case and you can go home as soon as you are able and we are happy to discharge you.
After this, you will be taken to your room or comfortable area where you can rest and recuperate until we feel you’re ready to go home.
You may feel some discomfort after the operation but you will be given pain relief medication immediately and again when we discharge you.
We will provide you with a supply of all the medicines your consultant feels you need to take home with you after you've left hospital, up to 14 days. This may be at an additional cost to some patients.
You will be able to leave as soon as your condition is stable and many patients go straight home as soon as they are feeling comfortable.
The wound will have a dressing and you should keep it dry until it is removed. Sometimes you will have been given dissolvable stitches or ones that need to be removed. We'll discuss this with you when you're discharged.
The area affected might feel a little tight at first but as you heal the surrounding skin will stretch, reducing the tightness.
If you have had a skin graft, the area where it was attached will be very delicate. You shouldn't damage or knock this area while it is healing.
If your skin cancer is at an advanced stage, you might need to have further treatment such as chemotherapy. Your consultant will discuss this with you.
After most of the treatments, you should be able to return to work quickly when you feel comfortable to do so.
If you have had a skin graft, the area will feel numb at first but you will get feeling back in two to six months. You should be able to start working again within two to six weeks, depending on the type of surgery you had. We'll talk to you about this.
Once you’re ready to be discharged, you’ll need to arrange a taxi, friend or family member to take you home as you won’t be able to drive. You should also ask them if they can run some light errands such as shopping for you as you won’t be feeling up to it.
Even once you’ve left hospital, we’re still here for you. You will have follow-up appointments in the next few weeks, when we will inspect your wounds and talk to you about whether you need further treatment.
On rare occasions, complications following treatment for malignant skin cancer can occur. We will talk to you about the possible risks and complications of having this procedure and how they apply to you. Please contact us if you have any concerns.
If you have any questions or concerns we’re ready to help.
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The treatment described on this page may be adapted to meet your individual needs, so it's important to follow your healthcare professional's advice and raise any questions that you may have with them.
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