Skin cancer twice as bad as previous estimates

Reseach shows one type accounts for 200,000 operations a year with cases rising 80 per cent in a decade

Skin cancer is now nearly as prevalent as all other cancers put together, with more than 200,000 basal cell skin cancers treated with surgery a year. New research has found that, over the past decade, there has been an 80 per cent rise in cases of the skin cancer which are treated with surgery alone. But doctors who carried out the study warn that official government skin cancer figures seriously underestimate the true levels. With costs of treating each case of this form of skin cancer estimated at around £1,000, the financial burden to the NHS could be more than £200m a year.

"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, who carried out the study. "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."

They added: "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, said: "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."

BCC, which accounts for around 75 per cent of all skin cancers, develops in the outermost layer of the skin, the epidermis, and it is linked to overexposure to ultraviolet light. Surgery is the main treatment and involves removing the cancerous tumour and some of the surrounding skin. Treatment for BCC is completely successful in approximately 90 per cent of cases, and unlike melanoma skin cancer, which is linked to around 2,000 deaths a year, it is rarely fatal.

However, projected government figures obtained by The Independent on Sunday show that melanoma cases are also expected to rise dramatically. The Department of Health strategy paper, which outlines a "vision" of how skin cancer in the UK might develop by 2015, reveals that medical advisers working in 2010 anticipated a significant increase in cases. "If current trends continue, it is anticipated that there will be around 15,500 cases of melanoma diagnosed per year within the next 15 years," it warns. Non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) of which BCC are a type, were also projected to increase by the paper, which said: "Similarly, the incidence of NMSC is set to increase over the next five years due to factors including an ageing population and a general increase in UV radiation exposure of the skin through altered behaviour."

According to the new study, cancer registries have difficulty in collecting and dealing with data on the incidence of BCC because of the sheer volume of work and the complexity of accurately identifying cases. The main aim of the research was to estimate the number of cases of BCC requiring surgical treatment in the UK each year.

This is corroborated by the government paper from 2010, which said: "Progress in improving national skin cancer registration has been slow. Better data (including data on co-morbidity, staging and performance status) is essential for informed cancer service planning, evaluation of prevention strategies and improved management of patients"

The team from East Anglia used data from the eastern registry to estimate the incidence of skin cancer and how it has changed over a decade. Results show that over the 11-year study, the number of patients with surgically treated BCC increased by 81 per cent. The team then extrapolated the findings to the UK population to estimate that around 200,000 patients had 247,000 cases of BCC treated surgically. The researchers say these may be underestimates because BCC is treated with other therapies too, including cryotherapy, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. That compares with around 114,000 non-melanoma skin cancers which are registered annually in England and Wales.

In all, around 300,000 cancers a year, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, are registered in the UK, which means, they say, that BCC is nearly as common as all other cancers combined.

"We found a far higher incidence of BCC in our analysis than is stated by the cancer registries, implying that BCC is far more common than previously thought.

"BCC occurs predominantly on sun-exposed areas of elderly people with lighter skin. Elderly people with paler skin should be strongly encouraged to avoid excess exposure to UV. Cancer registries should be supported to record more accurately the incidence of BCC."

Dr Bav Shergill, consultant dermatologist at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "This is an interesting study that suggests the incidence of skin cancer may be substantially higher than was thought. As dermatologists, we are seeing more cases of skin cancer, especially BCC. It is a challenge because the numbers of cases are projected to keep on increasing. It is thought that this is due to a number of factors, including people living longer, and greater exposure to the sun through outdoor hobbies, travel and package holidays, and so on."

Degrees of danger

Three types of skin cancer are prevalent.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form. It is slow growing and almost never spreads to other areas of the body. If treated in the early stages of growth it is usually completely curable.

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form in the UK, making up one in five diagnosed skin cancers. It is treatable in the early stages through surgery.

Malignant melanoma is a malignant tumour and is usually fast growing. Approximately 11,000 people will be diagnosed with this type annually. It must be treated in the early stages. Tumours can require extensive surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

    £6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

    Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

    £12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

    Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

    £32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

    Day In a Page

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor