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We heard today that the Australian actor Hugh Jackman has been treated for a type of skin cancer called basal cell carcinoma.

It’s great to see him using his recent cancer experience to encourage men to see their doctor straight away if they notice changes to their body, which is an important message to share. Men are more likely to get cancer, and to die from it, than women – so it’s crucial to do all we can to help men reduce the risk, and spot cancers early.

We’ve also noticed that celebrity stories like this increase the number of people searching our website for more information about particular cancers, so we’ve pulled together our information on basal cell carcinoma below.

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is extremely common. It’s not only the most common type of skin cancer, but also the most common type of cancer in general.

Hearing the words “you have cancer” can be scary, but the good news is that basal cell skin cancers are highly treatable and almost always cured.

Basal cell carcinomas are often on the face or other parts of the body that are regularly exposed to the sun.

How is basal cell carcinoma treated?

The main treatment for basal cell cancer is surgery to remove the cancer – Mr Jackman had a skin lesion removed from his nose. But other treatments like radiotherapy and photodynamic therapy can also be helpful.

The medical team take into account the size, stage and extent of the cancer when deciding which treatment is going to be best. Sometimes if the cancer is only on the surface of the skin it can be treated with a cream that stimulates the immune system to get rid of the cancer.

What other types of skin cancer are there?

The other main types of skin cancer are malignant melanoma and squamous cell cancer.

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and it kills over 2,200 people a year in the UK. But when it’s diagnosed and treated at an early stage, treatment is easier and many people survive.

So it is really important for anyone who notices an unusual change to their skin to go to the doctor and get it checked out.

What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

Get to know your skin and what’s normal for you – that way, you’re more likely to spot anything unusual that could be a sign of skin cancer.

Look out for any change to the size, shape or colour of a mole, or any other change to a mole or normal patch of skin. And if you notice a change, see your doctor straight away.

For more in-depth information, here’s our page on skin cancer symptoms, and this page has specific information about the symptoms of melanoma.

You can download a free leaflet about spotting the signs of skin cancer from our website.

Can you reduce the chance of getting skin cancer?

Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays, that can damage your skin. So enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn can really help reduce the risk.

As well as hurting, sunburn is a clear sign your skin has been damaged by too much UV exposure. To protect your skin when the sun is at its strongest, remember to:

  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
  • Wear a T shirt, hat and sunglasses
  • Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 (the higher the better), with good UVA protection (the more stars the better)

And avoid sunbeds too, as they can also raise the risk of skin cancer. They are absolutely not a safe alternative to tanning outdoors.

You can read more information about skin cancer on our website and more about how to stay safe in the sun on our SunSmart site.

Martin Ledwick, Cancer Research UK’s head information nurse

(Image of Hugh Jackman from Wikimedia Commons)

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Dr Mills November 29, 2013

Basal cell carcinoma and melanoma are very different beasts. Isn’t it time to stop grouping them both as ‘skin cancer’ and confusing (and scaring) everyone in the process ?

melanoma which is very dangerous