Skin cancer rates hit 200,000 – double previous estimates

sunbedSkin cancer could twice as prevalent as previous estimations, as new research shows that cases of basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) – the most common kind of skin cancer –  have soared by an incredible 80% in the last decade. In addition, skin cancer rates are now almost on par with every other type of cancer combined.

Non-melanoma basal cell carcinomas are abnormal, uncontrolled growths that develop in the skin’s basal cells and often appear as painful looking open sores with red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, or scars. BCCs mainly occur in fairer skinned people. Although a family history of the cancer is sometimes evident, for two thirds of patients who develop BCC, overexposure to UV light either from the sun or excessive use of sunbeds is usually the main factor behind it. Just in the UK alone, the NHS previously estimated 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed every year, and things could be getting worse according to the new research and cases are actually around the 200,000 mark.

The study, conducted by Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Eastern Cancer Registration Centre in Cambridge, suggests  a massive financial burden being inflicted onto the NHS as it is believed each case costs about £1,000 for treatment – resulting in excess of £200 million being drained from an already tight NHS budget. On the positive side however, success rates for basal cell carcinoma is incredible high and stands at approximately 90%.

For cases of non-melanoma skin cancer such as BCC, surgery is the main treatment undertaken. A surgeon will remove the cancerous tumour and an area of the surrounding healthy tissue to make sure the cancer has been properly removed. Scarring is the main risk with surgery and often skin from a part of your body that is not always visible (i.e. the back) is removed and ‘grafted’ to the affected area. Other treatment options for non-melanoma skin cancer are: cryotherapy, creams, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and a treatment known as photodynamic therapy (PDT) whereby cream is applied to the affected area and a strong light is shone onto it, killing the cancer in the process.

The team from East Anglia analysed data extracted from the eastern registry deduce patterns of skin cancer incidence over an 11-year time period and found that the number of patients requiring surgery for BCC rose by 81%. After extrapolating the findings to the UK population, the team came to the conclusion that around 200,000 patients had 247,000 cases of BCC treated surgically.

“Our study shows that the number of basal cell carcinomas (BCC) in the UK is approximately twice that indicated by government statistics,” said doctors from Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and Eastern Cancer Registration Centre, Cambridge. “The effects on population health and on costs to the health services of BCC in the UK should be recognised. Resources to prevent, diagnose and manage the disease should be prioritised to help control BCC, which now appears to be the commonest malignant disease in the UK. Cancer registries acknowledge that data collection for BCC is imperfect, and consequently data on BCC are excluded from national statistics. Unfortunately, this means that the commonest cancer in the UK is often overlooked by politicians, the public and the media.”

Catherine Thomson, of Cancer Research UK, added: “Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and we need to find better ways of recording the number of people diagnosed with it. This means they are not routinely reported and the true workload and treatment burden on the NHS is not widely understood. The good news is that generally it’s one of the easiest forms of cancer to treat and it is rarely fatal.”

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