Paul Merson health: Footballer owes partner ‘everything’ after ‘worrying’ skin cancer

Paul Merson discusses his drug addiction

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The former footballer, who more recently started to work as a regular pundit for Sky Sports on Gillette Soccer Saturday, has not had an easy life. Although enjoying huge success on the pitch playing for Arsenal, Aston Villa and England at the 1992 UEFA European Championship and 1998 FIFA World Cup, behind closed doors the star struggled with depression and a crippling gambling addiction. Back in 2012 the star was also given a devastating skin cancer diagnosis, after doctors discovered a growth on his back which has to be surgically removed.

Fearing the worst after medical professionals told him the growth was cancerous, Merson said at the time: “I was first diagnosed last month after having a mole on my back checked out by the ­doctor.

“They did some tests and it was diagnosed as being cancerous.”

Although Merson did not elaborate to say which type of skin cancer he had, the NHS explains that the most common is known as “non- melanoma”. It is important to distinguish that non-melanoma is not the same as “melanoma”, but both are cancerous and need treatment.

Firstly, melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body. They can appear anywhere on the body, but most commonly affect the backs of men and the legs of women.

Secondly, non-melanoma is a more common type of skin cancer that refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin. The condition usually develops on areas of the skin regularly exposed to sunlight such as the face, ears, hands, shoulders or back.

For both types of skin cancer, the main symptom and crucial first signs is a change or appearance of a new mole or discoloured patch on the skin, that persists after a few weeks and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years. This is particularly true for non-melanoma.

In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm and sometimes turn into ulcers, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly. Melanoma typically affects a pre-existing mole, but changes its appearance, making it irregular in shape or more than one colour. The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed.

However, a specific type of melanoma, known as nodular melanoma, is identified by a changing lump on the skin that might be black or red in colour, similar to non-melanoma.

In both cases, the NHS recommends if individuals notice any changes on their skin or a lump that has not cleared after four weeks, to seek advice from their GP.

The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are known as:

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), also known as a rodent ulcer, starts in the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis and accounts for about 75 in every 100 skin cancers
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) starts in the cells lining the top of the epidermis and accounts for about 20 in every 100 skin cancers.

Whereas the most common melanomas are:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma, which tends to grow outwards rather than downwards.
  • Nodular melanomas, which are a faster-developing type of melanoma that can quickly grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin if not removed
  • Lentigo maligna melanomas, which most commonly affect older people, particularly those who have spent a lot of time outdoors
  • Acral lentiginous melanomas, a rare type of melanoma that usually grows on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

In both cases, the cause of skin cancer is due to overexposure to ultraviolet UV light, which comes from the sun, artificial tanning beds and sunlamps. However, there are multiple risk factors that can increase the chances of an individual developing skin cancer. These include: a family member also having the condition, having pale skin that burns easily and having a large number of moles or freckles.

For Merson, his skin cancer was fortunately treated through surgery, which left him with a minimal 50 stitches. Following his surgery the star continued to see his GP to ensure the disease had not returned.

Talking about his treatment he added: “I had it removed and thankfully I’ve been given the all-clear.

“It’s obviously been a really worrying time but touch wood I’m all fine and can focus on my work.”

Although mainly keeping his cancer a secret, he told his close family and friends, crediting his then partner for forcing him to go and see the doctor in the first place. He said: “If it wasn’t for her I’d still have it. I owe her everything.”

The main treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer involves removing the tumour and some surrounding skin. The specific treatment used will depend on the type, size and location of the non-melanoma skin cancer an individual has.

For melanoma, treatment is used to slow the spread of the cancer and reduce symptoms. This is usually achieved through medication that targets specific genetic changes in the melanoma. Surgery is also used to remove the cancerous tissue and tumour.

It is important to note that individuals can reduce their risk of developing skin cancer by avoiding overexposure to UV light. Most people get sunburned while on holiday abroad, or in the UK during the summer while doing outdoor activities such as gardening, sunbathing or playing cricket.

On these occasions you need to be very careful, particularly if you have pale skin and many moles. The best way to protect yourself from sunburn is by using high-factor sunscreen, dressing sensibly in the sun, and limiting the amount of time you spend in the sun during the hottest part of the day.

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