Former sunbed user left with bald patch after skin cancer created hole in scalp

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·6-min read
Nicki Murtagh has been left with a bald patch after skin cancer left a hole in her head. (Caters)
Nicki Murtagh has been left with a bald patch after skin cancer left a hole in her head. (Caters)

A former sunbed fan has been left with a bald patch after skin cancer left a hole in her head.

Nickie Murtagh, 36, a childminder from London, used sunbeds twice per week, but after discovering a dry patch on her scalp, which soon turned into a lump, she was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.

The mum-of-three has since successfully had the lump removed and a skin graft from her thigh, but was left with a bald patch on her scalp, which she says looked like she had been shot in the head.

Murtagh now wears SPF all year round and wants to raise awareness of the dangers of sunbeds and sun damage.

"When I was in my twenties I would use a lot of sunbeds," Murtagh explains.

"I went a couple of times a week and would go on for about eight to 12 minutes.

"I didn't exceed the recommended times, so I didn't think too much of it."

The dry patch that appeared on Murtagh's scalp. (Caters)
The dry patch that appeared on Murtagh's scalp. (Caters)

Murtagh says she would also avoid using sun cream, especially on her face, because she didn't want to stop herself from catching a tan.

"I thought that sun cream would stop me tanning, which I now know isn't the case," she explains.

The mum-of-three says she first spotted a dry patch on her scalp, which eventually turned into a lump in her parting line.

"I went to the doctors to get it checked out but they told me it was fine and nothing to worry about," she says.

"I then went on holiday to Tenerife and it got much worse.

"I was also getting bad melasma on my face and my tan was very patchy.

"My skin just didn't feel right at all."

Read more: Woman discovers 'weird' line on fingernail was actually a sign of cancer

After returning from her holiday, Murtagh went back to the doctors but says she was told, once again, that everything was fine.

But the lump on her head was making her self-conscious, so she decided to return to the doctors to enquire about getting it removed.

"The doctors told me it was a cosmetic procedure and I would have to pay for it," she explains. "I got really upset and eventually, they sent a referral to the dermatologist."

Nickie Murtagh pictured during the time she used sunbeds. (Caters)
Nickie Murtagh pictured during the time she used sunbeds. (Caters)

At her dermatologist appointment, doctors told Murtagh they suspected it could be cancer and took a biopsy there and then.

Seven weeks later she received the results that she was suffering from basal cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.

"When I heard the C word I instantly felt like my world was ending and I was going to die," she explains. "I worried about my kids and my family.

"It was terrifying."

Murtagh was offered the option of radiotherapy or surgery.

"I chose surgery because it was less invasive and avoids the side effects that come with radiotherapy," she explains.

"I just wanted it to be gone."

Read more: 'Harmless' spot on mum's nose turned out to be skin cancer

Murtagh's head following surgery to remove cancer and skin graft from thigh. (Caters)
Murtagh's head following surgery to remove cancer and skin graft from thigh. (Caters)

After having the surgery to remove the cancer and being given a skin graft from her thigh, which doctors said was successful, Murtagh was given the all-clear.

She says one of the worst parts of her experience was the skin graft as her thigh would not stop bleeding.

But she also found herself feeling shocked after having the staples removed from the area that the lump was removed from, describing it as "gruesome".

"It was awful. It looked like I had been shot in the head," she says.

"And I was terrified to wash my hair and make it worse."

Watch: Tanning bed ban would 'reduce skin cancer rates in minors'

Because the skin taken was from her thigh, Murtagh says her hair won't grow back in that area. She has also lost all feeling in it.

"I can't see it very well because it is on the top of my head, but it makes me feel self-conscious when I catch people staring at it or sometimes kids point it out," she says.

"I try to use it to teach them a lesson to wear hats and sun cream.

"I also don't like to wear shorts because people can see the scar on my leg from the skin graft," she continues.

Murtagh says her experiences have completely changed how she views the sun.

"I am so much more cautious now and I avoid sunbeds at all cost," she explains.

"I am also much more educated about sun damage and sun protection. I always wear a hat and I have SPF on every single day of the year.

"The sun doesn't have to be hot to cause damage," she adds.

Read more: 'Tan lover' warns of sunbed danger after she is left with skin cancer scar

The scar on Murtagh's thigh. (Caters)
The scar on Murtagh's thigh. (Caters)

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is a type of non-melanoma skin cancer.

According to the NHS the term non-melanoma distinguishes these more common types of skin cancer from the less common skin cancer known as melanoma which can be more serious.

In the UK, around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. It affects more men than women and is more common in the elderly.

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that persists after a few weeks and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years.

While Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance, it can also look like a red, scaly patch.

The lump slowly gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.

Basal cell carcinoma does not usually spread to other parts of the body, and treatments include surgery to remove the cancerous tumour and some of the surrounding skin, freezing (cryotherapy), anti-cancer creams, radiotherapy and a form of light treatment called photodynamic therapy (PDT).

The treatment used will depend on the type, size and location of the non-melanoma skin cancer you have.

Additional reporting Caters.

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