May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month: an annual campaign that promotes the importance of protecting your skin from harmful UV rays to prevent skin cancer.
A recent study revealed that people miss 11% of their face when they apply sunscreen and are particularly prone to missing the eyelid area. As the skin of the eyelid is very thin, it has a heightened risk of UV damage and is more vulnerable to certain types of skin cancer.
Summer is just around the corner, so protecting your skin is more important than ever. However, as the aforementioned study demonstrates, not everybody is using sun protection properly. Fortunately, there are plenty of things you can do to educate yourself about the risks of skin cancer and the importance of protecting your skin from the sun.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is caused by skin cells developing abnormally due to overexposure to harmful UV light from the sun. There are two main categories of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma.
Melanoma is a less common type of skin cancer, but it can be very dangerous if it is not detected early-on. Non-melanoma is the more common form of skin cancer, resulting in around 136,000 new diagnoses every year.
Over the last decade, diagnoses of non-melanoma skin cancers have increased by 61%. The most prevalent subtypes of non-melanoma are squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC). The latter accounts for around 75% of all skin cancer cases in the UK, and most people treated for SCC and BCC are completely cured.
Signs and symptoms of skin cancer
Knowing what to look out for can mean a faster diagnosis and a better chance at beating skin cancer. The symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer, so it’s important to check your skin regularly for any changes.
The most common symptom of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or changes to an existing one. Moles that are irregular in shape, more than one colour, itchy, sore or bleeding may be indicative of melanoma.
BCC is usually indicated by a small pink or pearly white lump that’s waxy and shiny in appearance, or by a red, scaly patch. The lump often gets bigger and can bleed, become crusty or develop into a painless ulcer. SCC manifests as a firm pink or red lump with a rough, crusted or scaly surface. The lump can be tender to touch, bleed easily and, like BCC, it may develop into a painless ulcer.
The bottom line is, any unusual changes to your skin that persist for more than four weeks should be checked by a doctor.
Preventing skin cancer with sun protection
The majority of melanoma and non-melanoma cancers are caused by exposure to harmful UV radiation from the sun. Getting sunburnt as little as once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma, and it’s estimated that 90% of melanoma cases could be prevented if people were to enjoy the sun safely. Consequently, protecting your skin from the sun is one of the best ways to prevent skin cancer.
During the warmer months when the sun is at its strongest, sun protection is essential—especially between 11am and 3pm and if you plan to spend more than half an hour in the sun. To properly protect your skin, you should:
- Wear sunscreen that’s at least factor 15 and offers 4-star UVA protection as a minimum
- Make sure your sunscreen isn’t past its expiry date
- Apply sunscreen liberally and frequently to all exposed skin and reapply after you’ve been in water, even if the sunscreen is ‘water-resistant’
- Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
- Make sure your skin never burns
- Use other measures to protect yourself from the sun, such as hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved clothing
Protecting your skin this summer
You should always wear sun cream and stay hydrated if you’re out in the sun. As the risk of skin cancer increases in the UK from April to September, it’s important to use sun protection properly. If you think you are showing any signs or symptoms of skin cancer, you should see your GP or call 111 as soon as possible.