Well I don’t know about you, but when the sun came out a couple of weeks ago, I reckon I was one of the first to don a T shirt and head into the garden! It was so good to be in the warmth of the sun after such a wet and cold winter. Everywhere people proudly announced that even in few hours, they had managed to “catch the sun, and get a bit of colour.”
But how many of us put some sunscreen on first? I certainly did, but then in my line of work, skin cancer all too often shows up to spoil someone’s day. So since May is officially Skin Cancer Awareness month, that’s what I am looking at this month.
Skin Cancer is on the rise, in both men and women, across the globe. According to MASCED it is “the UKs most common and fast rising cancer. Melanoma, the deadliest form of cancer, is now one of the biggest cancer killers in 15-34 year olds. Experts estimate that by 2024 Melanoma will become one of the most common forms of all major cancers.”
Skin cancer kills more people in the UK than in the sunshine capital of the world, Australia. There are over 2,400 deaths from melanoma every year in the UK. But it doesn’t have to be this way, a massive 86% of deaths are preventable, we just don’t take our sun protection seriously enough in this country.
Whether you are old or young, male or female, and regardless of your skin type or ethnicity – skin cancer does not discriminate! However if you repeatedly burn your skin, the risks of skin cancer increase. Regular users of sunbeds, outdoor workers, people with 100+ moles, people who enjoy outdoor sports and those with a family history of skin cancer may be at a higher risk of contracting skin cancer than most… but we are ALL at risk at some level!
Melanomas and other forms of skin cancer are almost all caused by UV rays. The main rays are usually referred to as UVA, UVB and UVC rays. We often teach people to remember the effects of these rays as: A stands for Ageing, B for Burning and C for Cancer. UVC rays are blocked by the ozone layer luckily, UVA rays cause premature ageing and contribute to the burning of the skin, but it is the UVB rays, which are the primary cause of skin burning and subsequent skin cancer.
UVB causes sunburn – which is reddening of the skin, and is often followed by peeling and then subsequently, tanning, all of which are signs of sun damage. That lovely tan is actually the result of the skin producing additional melanin in order to protect the damaged delicate layers of skin below, but sadly by then, below the surface of the skin, and out of sight, often the more long term damage has been done.
“Argh!” I hear you shouting… “the sun makes me feel better- what do you want me to do…stay in all summer?” Absolutely not, the sun helps you produce essential vitamin D, and makes most people much more cheerful – but when you go into the sun, just take these 5 sensible precautions…
- Slip on a T-shirt
- Slop on plenty of a good quality sunscreen Factor 30+
- Slap on a wide brimmed hat which also protects your neck and ears
- Slide on some sunglasses to protect your eyes
- Seek Shade between 11am-3pm when the UV rays are strongest.
When you are using suncreams, they must be reapplied every 1.5-2 hours, and after swimming. For those wearing foundations which state that they contain an SPF, they too still need to be reapplied every 1.5 hours too, as the chemical sunscreen contained in suncream and foundation gradually degrades over that period, reducing its UV protection. Powder and cream sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium are physical rather than chemical sunscreens, which in some cases claim to have a longer period of protection and withstand contact with water for up to 40 minutes, but always read the information on each product and follow the application instructions on the packet/product. Never skimp on product when applying it either! In the case of sunscreens, more is definitely better! And no – last years sunscreen is not ok if it has been opened… throw it away, it will have lost its potency.
Finally, check your skin regularly, all year round, for for any changes. A new – or changing- mole or skin discolouration, even if apparently harmless looking, should always be checked out by your GP. The same goes for any skin tag, spot or mole which becomes crusty or bleeds. Remember that your GP would rather deal with any problems sooner rather than later.
IF IN DOUBT – CHECK IT OUT!
For more information, a useful website – www.skcin.org
As ever, if you have any questions, please feel free to call me on 07494 850582