It is summertime and hopefully the sun will shine all summer long so it’s time to:
Slip on a shirt
Slop on some sunscreen
Slap on a hat
Living in Devon we have some of the highest levels on sunshine in the UK and those of us who live in the Southwest also have the highest levels of skin cancer in the UK.
Skin cancer is a largely preventable disease but the levels have almost doubled since the 1980’s. There are 2 main types of skin cancer:
-Non-melanoma which is very common (more than 84 500 cases in 2007) and usually easily curable
-Malignant melanoma which is much more serious but less common (10 600 cases in 2007)
Skin cancer is more common the older we get however malignant melanoma is disproportionately high in younger people and is now the most common cancer in the 15-34 year age group. It is twice as common in young women as it is in young men however more young men die from it.
What Causes Skin cancer?
Sun exposure is the main cause of all types of skin cancer
Who is most at risk?
-People with fair hair, who sunburn easily or do not tan easily
-People with a lot of moles, or very large moles and people with a lot of freckles
-People who get repeatedly sunburned have double the risk of melanoma and also an increased risk of non melanoma skin cancer
-People who use sunbeds
Do people survive skin cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma: BCC, and squamous cell carcinoma: SCC) is very common and is usually detected early and is not life threatening.
Melanoma survival rates have increased in the last 20 years and are now amongst the highest for any skin cancer with over 80% of men and 90% of women surviving for more than 5 years.
What should you look for?
A mole that is different from the rest that is changing in any way. Sometimes they can bleed or start itching. The moles may suddenly look very black or you may even notice a different looking new mole. A melanoma can be a large or small mole.
A brown or black streak under a nail
A common site for melanomas is on the chest or back whilst in women they are commonest on the legs.
Non melanoma skin cancers (BCC, SCC)
A sore that never heals
Translucent growth with rolled edges
Waxy feeling scar
A flat or slightly depressed lesion that feels hard to the touch
Commonest on areas of high sun exposure e.g. the “T” at the centre of the face (Forehead/eyes/nose), bald scalps, the V at the nape of the neck and both lower arms.
What to do if you are worried
Make an appointment to see your doctor at Coleridge Medical Centre and we can review the area you are worried about. Most of the time we can review your lesion and reassure you. The majority of non melanoma skin cancers can be treated with a cream called efudix without the need for surgery or referral into hospital. Some non- melanoma skin cancers will need referral to specialist skin doctors either due to their size or position. All suspected melanomas will require urgent referral to the specialists at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital.
How do you protect yourself from sun damage and skin cancers?
In 1981 the Australians were very worried by the rocketing numbers of skin cancers and so the Slip Slop, Slap campaign was introduced and this significantly raised awareness of the need to protect the skin from the effects of sun damage and how to do it. It is attributed to slowing the rate of growth in skin cancer incidence in Australia.
Slip on a shirt: any shirt will do but try make sure it is one that covers your shoulders and the V of your neck. Ideally if you are going to the beach get the whole family UV protection T shirts even supermarkets sell them now.
Slop on some sunscreen: Choose a factor 30 sunscreen keep it in your bathroom or bedroom and put it on when you get dressed and before you go out and then reapply regularly throughout the day. Always take enough sunscreen for the day if you go out walking or to the beach.
Slap on a hat: the wider brimmed the better as it protects your face AND the back of your neck
Any worries about your skin? Come in and see one of the Coleridge Medical Centre Doctors.