03 Feb Skin Cancer – Ways to Spot it and Protect Against it
Skin cancer rates are soaring, and with increasing foreign travel, tanning and the depleted ozone layer the rise looks set to continue. The incidence of the most dangerous form of the disease, melanoma, is predicted to increase by 7% in the UK between 2014 and 2035. It is currently the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with 42 new cases being diagnosed every day.
Skin cancers can be serious but, by identifying them early and getting prompt attention and treatment, they can often be cured. In the UK, about 86% of melanoma cases are preventable.
Although most moles are totally harmless, it’s important to get a check-up if you develop a new one. It’s also vital to get medical attention if an existing mole becomes irritated, bleeds, grows, changes shape or colour. This could be a sign of a type of serious skin cancer called malignant melanoma.
Malignant melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells of the skin. The cells start to grow and multiply in an uncontrolled way, so they are usually (but not always) darker in colour than the surrounding skin. Melanomas can develop in an existing mole, or sprout on skin that appears clear. The cancer cells can also spread to the surrounding skin, lymph nodes and to other parts of the body like the liver and lungs.
The good news is that if melanoma is treated early, the prognosis is usually good. See your doctor if a mole is:
- Getting bigger
- Developing irregular or uneven edges
- Itching, red or inflamed
- Thickening on the surface
- Bleeding or crusting
- Varied in shade or colour
- Larger than the head of a pencil (eraser end)
The mole could just be infected or irritated, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
Non-melanoma skin cancers
Melanoma isn’t the only type of skin cancer, there are other types which are actually more common, although they are usually less serious and there is a lower risk of spread within the body. The two most common types are:
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): BCCs make up about eight in ten skin cancers. They can vary enormously in appearance. Some seem like scabs that don’t heal, others may appear lumpy and shiny or like a flat red mark. If left they may develop into a crater with a raised, pearly edge which can gradually erode the skin, this tendency has led to it being called a rodent ulcer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer in the UK. It usually appears on sun-exposed parts of the body and looks like a scaly or crusty patch of skin with a red base. They can be tender and may bleed when touched.
Skin cancer is most common in fair-skinned people who have had lots of sun-exposure, especially if they have suffered from sunburn. It is also more likely to occur in individuals who smoke, those with a family history, older people and those who have impaired immunity due to illness, medication or cancer treatment.
There are some factors you can’t change but you can decrease your sun exposure. Always try to follow the advice: Slip, slop, slap, seek, slide.
- Slip on a shirt
- Slop on some sunscreen with SPF of at least 30
- Slap on a hat
- Seek shade or shelter, especially around midday
- Slide on some sunglasses, to protect the eyes
Sun rays don’t just age the skin; they could put your health at risk. By protecting yourself from the rays, you’ll look younger and help prevent cancers developing.