Simple Steps To Protect Yourself From Skin CancerBlog Health News 9th June 2023 Enquiries & appointments
In the UK, skin cancer has reached alarming levels with a staggering 2.5 times more cases than in the 1990s. With rates of skin cancers increasing year on year, it is important to recognise the significance of protecting our skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
The Sun’s Role:
Most skin cancers are directly linked to sun exposure, whether through episodes of sunburn or cumulative exposure over a lifetime. UV rays from the sun or artificial sources such as sunbeds damages the DNA in the nucleus of our skin cells, leading to mutations that can potentially trigger the development of cancer. Understanding the connection between sunlight and skin cancer emphasises the need for protective measures that shield us from harmful UV rays.
The risk of developing skin cancer increases with age and is particularly high among fair-skinned individuals who are more prone to sunburn.
The Many Faces of Skin Cancer:
Non-melanoma skin cancers are derived from skin cells (keratinocytes) and account for approximately 160,000 new cases in the UK each year.
Basal cell carcinomas are the most common type and typically grow slowly over several months. They may not be noticed until they scab over or bleed repeatedly, like a non-healing sore. Although they do not spread to other parts of the body, they can invade the surrounding tissues.
Squamous cell carcinomas, the next most prevalent, tend to grow rapidly and may reach several centimetres in size within weeks. They often appear as tender, flesh-coloured or reddish swellings and can sometimes spread to nearby lymph nodes.
Melanoma skin cancer is derived from pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) and accounts for around 17,000 new cases in the UK each year.
Melanomas are the most dangerous as they frequently spread to other parts of the body. It is the 5th commonest type of all cancers and is responsible for around 2,300 deaths per year in the UK. These often present as new or changing lesions which may be irregular in shape with an asymmetrical mixture of colours such as black, brown and red.
There are a number of other rarer types of skin cancer including Merkel’s cell carcinoma, adnexal carcinoma, sarcoma and lymphoma.
Early Detection is Key:
The outlook for all skin cancers improves dramatically when detected early. Regularly examining your skin for any changes or suspicious lesions can be a life-saving habit. Pay attention to rough, dry, or red areas on sun-exposed skin which may indicate precancerous changes. If you notice new or evolving lesions, seek advice from your GP or Dermatologist promptly. Many of the lesions and changes occurring to the skin with time are harmless but these often need an expert to differentiate them from potentially cancerous or precancerous ones. Timely intervention offers the best chance of successful treatment.
Protection and Prevention:
To minimise the risk of skin cancer, it is important to adopt effective protective measures against the sun’s harmful rays. Applying sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to 50 before sun exposure is crucial, and remember to reapply it after swimming or washing. Wearing protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and long sleeves, provides an additional layer of defence against UV radiation. It is essential to be proactive in safeguarding your skin’s health and seeking shade during peak sun hours when UV intensity is highest.
If treatment is required, surgery is generally needed to remove the lesion along with a margin of normal tissue. Chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiotherapy are sometimes required.
Resources for Education and Support:
Educational resources and organisations play a vital role in raising awareness and providing guidance on skin cancer prevention. The Skin Cancer Foundation (www.SkinCancer.org/info) and the British Association of Dermatologists (www.BAD.org/patient/leaflets) offer valuable information and support to help individuals stay informed and take necessary precautions.
Article written by Dr Saul Halpern, Consultant Dermatologist