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Skin cancer symptoms: Bowen’s disease early form of the disease – 5 signs to look out for

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Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the UK. Melanoma skin cancers account for around 17,000 new cancer diagnoses a year, while there are 156,000 new non-melanoma cases every year. The common signs of skin cancer most people think of are moles that changes colour or size, or painful lesions.

However, there is also a rash that could signal the first stages of skin cancer.

Bowen’s disease is a “very” early form of skin cancer that’s “easily treatable”.

The NHS says: “The main sign is a red, scaly patch on the skin.”

This rash could also be:

  • Red or pink
  • Scaly or crusty
  • Flat or raised
  • Up to a few centimetres across
  • And itchy (but not all the time).

“The patch can appear anywhere on the skin, but is especially common on exposed areas like the lower legs, neck and head,” the NHS explains.

“Sometimes they can affect the groin area and, in men, the penis.

“If the patch bleeds, starts to turn into an open sore (ulcer) or develops a lump, it could be a sign it’s turned into squamous cell skin cancer.”

The disease itself is “not usually” serious.

This is because it tends to grow very slowly over months or years, and there are several very effective treatments for it.

But the NHS warns: “The concern is that Bowen’s disease can eventually develop into a different type of skin cancer called squamous cell skin cancer if it’s left undiagnosed or neglected.

“It’s estimated this happens in up to one in 20 to one in 30 people with untreated Bowen’s disease.

“Squamous cell skin cancer is often treatable, but it can spread deeper into the body and is sometimes very serious.”

You are advised to see a GP if you have a “persistent red, scaly” patch of skin and do not know the cause.

If necessary they might take a small sample of skin for a biopsy or refer you to a specialist.

Bowen’s disease is most common in older people in their 60s and 70s.

While the specific cause is not known there are a number of factors it has been linked to.

These include:

  • Long-term exposure to the sun or use of sunbeds
  • Having a weak immune system
  • Previously having radiotherapy treatment
  • The human papillomavirus (HPV) – a common virus that often affects the genital area.

It is not infectious and does not run in families.

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