Skin Cancer Awareness
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK. Incidence is rising with over 115,000 people diagnosed with the condition each year. The risk factors associated with the condition include over exposure to UV radiation from the sun, over use of sun beds and skin pigmentation.
Types of skin cancer
Malignant Melanoma: This is the most serious type of skin cancer but fortunately is less common. Meanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells in the skin and can appear as a new mole or as change in an existing mole. It requires early treatment because it can progress and spread to other sites of the body which can make treatment difficult and can lead to death. It is the second most common cancer in the 15-34 age group.
Non Melanoma Skin Cancer: This type of skin cancer includes both squamous and basal cell carcinomas and is the most common type of skin cancer. It can be treated easily as long as it is diagnosed at an early stage.
What are the risk factors?
The main risk factors associated with skin cancer include:
- Over exposure to the sun leading to sun burning especially at a young age. Babies and young children with delicate skin are particularly vunerable to damage from the sun which increases the risk of melanoma in later life.
- Over exposure to artificial ultraviolet radiation particularly through the unsafe use of sun tanning beds.
- An outdoor occupation.
- You have fair skin and light coloured eyes and are prone to burning.
- Immunosupression with medications such as those used following organ transplant.
- A family history of skin cancer.
- Previous diagnosis of skin cancer
- Skin damaged by X-rays, old scars, ulcers, burns and persisting wounds.
- People who have many unusual (atypical) moles. They tend to be larger than ordinary moles and have irregular shapes or colours patterns.
Early warning signs
An early sign of melanoma can be the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. Check your skin regularly, every month is good enough. Look for these signs:
Asymmetry – The two halves of your mole do not look the same.
Border – The edges of your mole have become irregular, blurred or jagged.
Colour – The colour of your mole is uneven with more than one shade, or you notice any new shades appearing
Diameter - A mole or mole-like mark gets bigger over a period of weeks to months
Expert - Look out for change and if in doubt get it checked by your doctor.
Non melanoma skin cancers can occur on any part of the body but are most common on areas of the body that most often exposed to the sun. Some of the possible signs to look out for include:
A scab or sore that won’t heal, it may bleed occasionally.
A scaly or crusty patch of skin that looks red and inflammed.
A flesh coloured pearly lump that won’t go and is growing in size
A lump on the skin that is getting bigger and may be scabby.
A growth with a pearly rim around a central crater. It may look like a volcano.
If in doubt check it out with your doctor.
How can I prevent skin cancer?
Behaviour change is the most important part of skin cancer prevention.
DO NOT LET YOUR SKIN BURN if your skin has gone red in the sun, it’s sunburnt. Sun burn isn’t just red raw, blistered or peeling skin.
Spend some time in the shade when it is very hot especially during peak hours between 11am and 3pm.
Wear appropriate clothing - it is now possible to find clothing made with fabric protecting the body from UV radiation. A closely woven fabric is essential which excludes light. Long sleeves, shirts with collars and hats with a wide brim are recommended. Take special care with babies and young children.
Do not forget sunglasses with UV protection.
Apply Sunscreen with an SPF 30 (to protect against UVB rays which burns the skin) and a UVA circle logo with 4 or 5 stars (to protect against UVA rays which ages the skin and causes sun damage). Apply 15 -30 minutes before going out in the sun and repeat every 2 hours and straight after swimming or towel drying. Smooth a thin layer on the skin do not rub it away.
Do not use artificial sun tanning beds.
Vitamin D is important. Make sure you get plenty in your diet and limit unprotected sun exposure, evidence suggests 10 – 15 minutes daily is enough for most lighter-skinned people and should be less than the time it takes for you to start going red or burn.
Further information about skin cancer and its prevention visit