This week is Sun Awareness Week (May 3 to 9) – a special campaign organised by the British Association of Dermatologists to raise awareness of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develops in the upper upper layers of the skin. 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.
Check for skin moles
Meyer Clinic Medical Director Dr Annelize Meyer recommends that you examine your skin every month. Most moles are benign (non-cancerous). If you notice changes in a mole’s colour or appearance, have your mole checked by your GP. If they have any concerns they will refer you to a dermatologist. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful.
The following ABCDE rules are important signs of moles that could be cancerous. If a mole displays any of the signs listed below, have it checked immediately by your GP.
- Asymmetry – the two halves of the area may differ in shape.
- Border – the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches.
- Colour – the mole has different colours, or it has multiple shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, pink or red.
- Diameter – most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your GP.
- Elevation – the mole becomes elevated or raised on the skin.
Dr Annelize Meyer advises:
I advise my patients to be aware of new moles, to keep a close check on them. This is especially the case if a new mole develops after the age of 30. Although these are likely to be harmless age-associated growths rather than moles it is important to get them checked by your GP. He or she will examine the growth and perform a skin biopsy, if indicated. This information can then decide the next course of action. I always tell my patients to err on the side of caution; I would rather they come to me with their concerns rather than leave health issues to go unchecked. Diagnosing any type of cancer at its earliest stages, before it has had a chance to spread to other parts of the body, can have a huge effect on survival because once a cancer has spread, it is often harder to treat successfully.
Causes and risk factors
A person’s risk of developing skin cancer depends on many factors, including age and genetics, but by far the main risk factor for developing melanoma is exposure to UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
The main environmental risk factor for developing melanoma is exposure to UV radiation. This can be through natural sunlight, or through the artificial light used in sunbeds or sunlamps. UV radiation damages the DNA in our skin cells, which can cause the cells to grow uncontrollably and lead to melanoma. There are two main types of UV rays that damage our skin, both of which can cause skin cancer:
- UVB causes most sunburns
- UVA ages the skin, however contributes less towards sunburn
There is a third type of UV ray called UVC. This is completely blocked out by the ozone layer and does not reach the Earth’s surface.
In the UK, the number of people developing melanoma is steadily rising. One of the reasons for this has been attributed to an increase in popularity for foreign travel, increasing sun exposure. However, regular exposure to a small amount of sunshine is actually good for you.
Dr Annelize Meyer explains:
“Our bodies need exposure to sunlight to produce Vitamin D. This essential source is both a vitamin and hormone that our bodies need to keep our bones, teeth and muscles healthy. Vitamin D also helps protect against various autoimmune diseases, while enhancing the first line of defence against invading microorganisms. However, we do need to find a balance because too much exposure to the sun, including sunburn, does increase the risk of skin cancer. Episodes of severe sunburn that cause the skin to blister, especially during childhood, can increase the risk of melanoma in the future so it is really important that we stay safe when we’re in the sun.”
How to stay safe in the sun
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF 30 which also has high UVA protection. Apply liberally at least 15minutes before going out into the sun and re-apply it generously every two hours and straight after swimming.
- Protect your skin with clothing – long-sleeved tops and longer bottoms can protect you from UV rays – and don’t forget to wear a hat that protects your face, neck and ears and a pair of UV protective sunglasses. If you’re on the beach, be sure to have a cover-up handy.
- Step out of the sun before your skin has a chance to redden or burn. Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its brightest.
- Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight.
Sunbeds use artificial UV rays that can damage the DNA in your skin, and over time may increase the risk of melanoma. They can also cause your skin to age prematurely, making it look coarse, leathery and wrinkled. The more you use a sunbed or lamp, and the earlier in life you begin using them, the greater your risk. Evidence shows that people who are frequently exposed to UV rays before the age of 25 are at greater risk of developing skin cancer later in life.
If you have any concerns about your health, book in for a health check-up with our medical expert Dr Annelize Meyer. Having a detailed understanding of your health can allow you to manage your lifestyle accordingly and live life to its full potential. Call 01243 771455 or email email@example.com