Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK, especially in people aged between 15 and34, and is most commonly found in white skin.
Approximately 13,300 Britons were diagnosed with malignant skin cancer in 2011- that amounts to 37 people each day. According to the latest NHS figures, more than 2,000 people die every year in the UK from melanoma alone.
Over the last thirty years, the numbers of people diagnosed with skin cancer in the UK have gone up faster than any of the other ten most common cancers. Why? It’s due to the fact that having a tan is seen as something which is healthy and fashionable. Tanned skin is in fact a sign that our skin has become damaged, and people who are sun worshippers, or addicted to tanning salons, are running the risk of developing skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are two main types of skin cancer:
- Non-melanoma skin cancer is a group of cancers which are slow to develop. They occur in the upper layers of the skin and do not spread as fast through the body as melanoma. Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are the most common types of non-melanoma skin cancers.
- Melanoma is a less common type of cancer, but is also more severe. It starts as cancerous moles on the skin, and may quickly spread into other parts of the body.
Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer
The signs of skin cancer will depend on the type of cancer the patient has.
With non-melanoma skin cancer, the first sign is often a patch or lump on the skin which does not heal on its own. Lumps which are cancerous are mostly firm and red, and patches are flatter and scalier. Anyone who has a lump which does not heal within a month should make an appointment to see their GP, as it could be one of the first symptoms of skin cancer.
A melanoma skin cancer most often appears first as changes to a mole, or a new mole appearing. These moles can appear anywhere, but the most common places are on the back, face and limbs. Melanomas might have an irregular shape, and be a variety of colours. They might be bigger than other moles and can be itchy and may bleed.
Diagnosing Skin Cancer
A GP will first refer a patient with suspected skin cancer to a specialist, who will carry out tests to accurately diagnose the cancer. If the suspicion of cancer is confirmed, then the doctors may recommend surgery to remove a piece of skin around the affected area. If the patient’s cancer is diagnosed as melanoma, further tests will be needed to determine whether the cancer is malignant melanoma, as this sort of cancer is more likely to have spread.
Treating Skin Cancer
Every skin cancer is different and the correct treatment will be tailored to the individual. When deciding which treatment is most appropriate in your case, doctors will take into account:
- The type of skin cancer which you have
- How big the cancer is and whether or not it has spread
- The patient’s general health and wellbeing
The doctors will then design a treatment programme which could involve removal of the cancer during surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy directed at the skin, or cauterisation using electric current.
The aims of treatment will also depend on the stage of the cancer. If the skin cancer has been diagnosed early then the expected outcomes should be positive, with the goal of treatment to completely remove the cancer. If however the cancer is detected until later stages and if it has spread to other areas of the body, the aims of treatment may be about prolonging quality of life and controlling the patient’s symptoms.
Misdiagnosis Compensation Claims and Skin Cancer
There are many different circumstances which might result in a medical negligence claim connected with skin cancer.
- There could be a delay in diagnosing the cancer at the outset. This could be due to the family doctor simply not recognising symptoms which should have led him to refer the patient for more tests. In order for a compensation claim to be successful, a patient has to show that the delay meant a worse outcome. This is often the case when a skin cancer is left without treatment. In skin cancers delays can be important as how quickly the cancer spreads and how easily it can be treated is often closely linked to the outcome for the patient.
- After the diagnosis has been made, it is essential that the patient fully understands his or her options for treatment. Sometimes, having surgery may mean that the patient risks serious disabilities in the future and may cause a harmless tumour to become malignant. It is therefore very important that the doctors inform patients fully of these risks. Occasionally doctors fail to adequately explain treatment options and allied risks – and that can also provide grounds for claiming medical negligence compensation
- If surgery is recommended, it has to be carried out carefully, avoiding any complications like damage to nerves or infection. Negligence surgery is a further reason for a claim to be made
- There are even occasionally cases where patients who do not have skin cancer are diagnosed as having the condition. These patients have to suffer the mental stress of thinking of themselves as a cancer patients, and might even have to go through all of the pre-operation tests and perhaps even surgery, when they actually don’t have cancer at all. This sort of case can also result in a compensation claim due to both the distress suffered as well as the time the patient has needed to take off work and the associated financial implications.
Avoiding a Claim – good practice for GPs
The following five stages are sensible steps for your GP to have taken – failure to follow one or more of these, can be associated with medical negligence claims
- Family doctors should ensure that they give their full attention to patients raising more than one matter during an appointment. If there is not time to deal with everything, they should make another appointment.
- GPs should also make detailed and accurate medical notes about the patient’s illness, and also note down any other matters which the patient mentions during an appointment.
- Getting a malignant melanoma diagnosed quickly is particularly important.
- When examining a patient’s skin, the GP should record the site and size of any lesion, and describe its appearance. All other lesions should also be noted down.
- If dealing with suspected melanoma, the doctor should note whether it has changed in size, shape, colour or symptoms.
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