Skin cancers are grouped into melanoma and non-melanoma. The non-melanomas are more common and are usually less aggressive. They often appear on the sun-exposed areas of the skin, particularly the face, ears and scalp, after many years in the sun. They are therefore more common in elderly patients and may have been noticed many months, if not years, before seeking medical attention.
The most common subtypes are basal cell carcinomas (BCC or rodent ulcer) and squamous cell carcinomas. It is usually fairly easy to distinguish the two, however a biopsy is usually performed by a dermatologist prior to treatment – either with surgery or radiotherapy.
Early, thin cancers are treated quite easily with low energy X-rays that only penetrate the skin by a few millimetres. Treatments schedules are relatively short: typically over five or ten daily sessions.
For thicker skin cancers, electron beam therapy is available. And for rare, advanced skin cancers that may have required major head and neck surgery, complex computer planned radiotherapy is also available.