Melanoma awareness week

Posted on: 15 June 2011 by Rhian Mainwaring

People over 50 must educate themselves to the risks of skin cancer

Skin

Skin cancer in Britain is rising faster than any other common cancer with as many as 100,000 new cases diagnosed each year. It has been revealed that two thirds (63 per cent) of people never check their skin for the subtle changes that might indicate the condition. Yet, as we age we tend to have more leisure time to enjoy outdoor activities such as gardening, walking and outdoor sports and this exposure to the sun leave us all more at risk of developing skin cancer.

With this news in mind and summer holidays approaching, consultants from BMI Healthcare want to remind people across the UK to take preventative measures to ensure they are safe in the sun and to seek medical advice from their local GP if they have any of the symptoms associated with skin damage. 

Dr Catherine Hardman, Consultant Dermatologist at BMIThe Clementine Churchill Hospital in London comments: “In the UK more than 2600 people die from skin cancer every year, but by taking the correct precautionary measures and actions, you can significantly reduce the risk.”

She adds, “Last year, I saw a number of patients at The Clementine Churchill Hospital regarding skin complaints, of whom about 40 per cent had sun damage to their skin. People of all ages, especially those with more active lifestyles should take responsible measures to prepare for the increased expose their skin will face. If people are worried about any skin abnormalities, they should consult a healthcare professional immediately. Melanoma is curable in the majority of cases if it is treated early, which is why patients should check their skin periodically and report promptly to their doctor. You should look for any irregularly shaped or variably pigmented skin lesions, moles or freckles, or indeed any that look different from the rest.  Likewise any new lumps or sores that do not heal may be skin cancers and should be reported to their GP.”

Dr Catherine Hardman highlights the factors that affect your risk of developing the disease

How can you get skin cancer/what causes skin cancer?

  • People who work outdoors, or who spend more leisure time outside are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer because of prolonged exposure to the sun. 
  • A fair-skinned person who tends to go red or freckle in the sun will be most at risk. Darker skinned people have an extremely low risk of developing skin cancer because the melanin pigment in their skin gives them protection. 
  • Children and young adults who have been over-exposed to the sun have an increased risk of developing some form of skin cancer. Damage to the skin below the age of 20 is an important risk factor in the development of basal cell cancers. This will not show up until later on in life – usually after about the age of 40. 
  • The regular use of sun-beds can increase the risk of developing skin cancers.
  • Other people who are at risk include those people who have had previous radiotherapy treatment, have a lowered immunity, have a hereditary condition such as Gorlin’s syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum (XP) or have been exposed to chemicals including, coal tar, soot, pitch, asphalt, creosotes, paraffin waxes, petroleum derivatives, cutting oils and arsenic.

How can I reduce the risk of getting skin cancer?

  • Avoid the hottest and sunniest part of the day between 11am and 3pm
  • Where possible, always try to sit in the shade
  • Wear a broad brimmed hat and protective clothing to shield the skin from the sun when outdoors, even when swimming
  • Apply a sun protection lotion of Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or greater, to those areas that cannot be protected by clothing or a hat.
  • Report any changing or suspicious skin lesions to your doctor immediately. The most common site for men to develop a malignant melanoma is on the chest or back. For women it is on the legs.
  • Learn how to recognise their early signs and examine your skin regularly for these signs, and get an annual check from your doctor or nurse.

“Keep an eye on your skin periodically (e.g. each 2-3 months), so that you will be aware of a mole that is changing, or of a new problem occurring. There are four major changes to look for in your moles: 

  • Increase in size, 
  • Changing colour (e.g. darkening),
  • Changing shape (irregular border) 
  • Becoming more raised off the surface. 
  • Minor changes include itching or bleeding.

If any of these changes are seen, you should consult a healthcare professional quickly for advice,” Dr Catherine Hardman concludes.

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