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May is Melanoma Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and with more of us making the most of the good weather in our gardens and spending more time outdoors, it’s important to be aware of the signs of skin cancer, what steps you can take to prevent it and what you should do if you’re worried.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK (around 147,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year) yet 86% of these cases are preventable.

The most common skin cancer is Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), which accounts for approximately 80% of all cases. This type of cancer is typically slow growing, with a low risk of metastasis and a high recovery rate. The second most common form in the UK is Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), which again is typically slow growing and with a low risk of metastasis, whereas the most lethal form of skin cancer – malignant melanoma – accounts for roughly 4% of all diagnosed cases and has the ability to rapidly spread to the lymph system and internal organs.


What to look out for:

There are three main things to look out for when checking for skin cancer. Melanoma UK suggests a full head-to-toe self-examination once a month for the following:

  • Anything new – keep an eye out for new moles or blemishes.
  • Any changes – always check to see if your spots or moles are changing in colour, shape, size or texture.
  • Anything unusual – look for spots, moles or blemishes with an unusual outline, or which continuously itch, hurt, crust or bleed for more than 3 weeks.

Remember – skin cancer is the cancer you can see.


 How to prevent skin cancer:

The most common cause of all types of skin cancer is exposure to UV light. We can reduce the impact this has on our skin by frequently applying sun-cream and reducing our exposure to the sun. Your age, natural skin colour and how much time you spend outside can all have an impact your risk levels too.

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the following:

  • Seek shade, especially between 10am and 4pm.
  • Avoid burning.
  • Avoid tanning (and if you must, fake it!).
  • Cover up with clothing, a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sun cream with an SPF of 15 or above every day. Increase the SPF for extended outdoor activities.
  • Apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 2 hours, after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun and cover up children.

According to the Journal of Clinical Oncology, regular daily use of an SPF 15 or above sunscreen can reduce the risk of developing melanoma by 50%.


What to do if you’re worried:

If you notice an unusual or persistent change to your skin, it’s vital you get this checked out by a doctor as soon as possible – even if it turns out to be nothing! It’s much easier to treat skin cancer the earlier it is detected.

If your doctor suspects it might be cancer, you’ll be referred to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Usually, non-melanoma skin cancer is treated and removed via surgery but other non-surgical treatments, such as freezing, anti-cancer creams and electrochemotherapy, are also used in certain circumstances.

The success rate for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer is high – at least 9 out of 10 people are successfully treated – and it’s for this reason that although skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in UK, it is usually left off the list of national statistics.

For more information visit the NHS website.

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