One of the most common types of cancer in the UK is skin cancer, and it most often occurs in white skin. Over the last 25 years skin cancer rates have rocketed in the UK, mainly down to the culture which equates a tan with fashion and health. Tanned skin is in fact a sign that the skin is damaged, and that the sun worshippers might be running the risk of developing skin cancer.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are two types of skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer is a type of skin cancer which develops slowly in the top layers of the skin, whereas melanoma spreads faster throughout the body. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common non-melanoma skin cancers.
Melanoma is a rarer form of skin cancer, but is more serious. It starts in the skin as cancerous moles, and might quickly spread to other parts of the body.
Symptoms of Skin Cancer
The symptoms which are experienced will vary depending on the type of cancer.
A patch on the skin or a lump which does not heal in a few weeks is often the first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer. A lump which is cancerous is firm and red, and a patch is flat and scaly. See your GP if you have something wrong with your skin which doesn’t heal within four weeks, as this can be a sign of skin cancer.
With melanoma, the first sign of skin cancer is a new mole appearing, or changes to a mole. These changes can happen anywhere on the skin, but are most common on the back, limbs and face. Melanomas can be irregularly shaped and can be a variety of colours. Melanomas might be bigger than other moles, and can bleed or itch.
How Doctors Diagnose Skin Cancer
After the family doctor has referred the patient to a specialist, they will have more tests to see if their symptoms indicate skin cancer. If skin cancer is confirmed, the patient might need an operation to remove some of their skin. If a melanoma skin cancer is diagnosed, they might need more tests to see if they have the type of cancer which is likely to spread.
Treating Skin Cancer
The doctors decide how to treat cancer based on each individual. When trying to decide on the most appropriate treatment the medical team have to take into account:
• Which type of cancer has been diagnosed
• How large the cancer is and whether it has spread
• The patient’s general health
The doctors will then work out a programme of treatment which might include surgical removal, chemotherapy or radiotherapy on the affected area of the skin.
The aims of the treatment will also vary depending on the cancer. If the cancer is diagnosed early the patient’s outlook will be good, and the treatment will aim to eradicate the cancer. If the cancer is in the later stages it might have spread into other parts of the body and the aim may be to improve the quality of life or controlling symptoms
Misdiagnosis Claims for Skin Cancer
There are many different situations which might result in a claim for medical negligence due to skin cancer.
• The initial diagnosis of cancer might be slow, and this could be caused by a GP not picking up the symptoms of skin cancer and failing to refer the patient on. In order for a successful claim, the patient has to show that this delay has led to them being in a worse situation, which is often the case when skin cancer is not treated. Delays in treating skin cancer are important as the patient’s prognosis is directly related to how much the cancer has spread and how easy it is to remove.
• After the patient has been given the diagnosis of skin cancer, it is essential that the patient has the treatment options clearly explained. In some cases the surgery may carry risks of leaving the patient with a serious disability or can cause a benign tumour to become malignant, and the doctor has to explain these risks properly.
• If surgery is recommended, any operation must be done carefully to avoid complications such as damage to nerves or infection.
• There are even cases where patients are told that they have skin cancer when they don’t. These people then have to go through the turmoil of having a cancer diagnosis, and then potentially have to go through tests and treatments which may even end in unnecessary surgery, when all along their condition was something minor. In these cases, the patient might be able to claim for both the medical negligence suffered, and the financial implications of having to take time off work for the unnecessary treatment.
Providing Evidence for the Claim
When looking for evidence to support your negligence claim, your solicitor will consider whether the medical professionals concerned have followed best practice – which for skin cancer should include the following;
• GPs should always make sure they pay attention to patients who raise extra matters during appointments. If the GP doesn’t have time to deal with the matter, he should make another appointment with the patient.
• The GP must also keep detailed and accurate notes about all medical complaints raised by a patient, and also about anything else which comes up during the consultation.
• Making a diagnosis quickly is very important when dealing with malignant melanoma. Whenever a GP looks at a lesion on the skin, he should make records of its size and site and describe the appearance.
• When talking to a patient about a suspected melanoma, the doctor must note details about changes in shape, size, colour or other symptoms.