We are more aware of the dangers of the sun than ever before, knowing how important it is to cover up and apply sun cream. But despite this, skin cancer rates continue to increase – particularly melanoma, one of the most aggressive forms of skin cancer, which can spread to other organs in the body if left unchecked.
There is no such thing as a healthy tan, because a tan is caused by UVA radiation penetrating to the lower layers of the epidermis where blood vessels and nerves are found, causing skin cells to develop abnormally. Just because someone doesn’t burn in the sun does not mean that they are protected against skin cancer and associated problems.
Now, as May marks Skin Cancer Awareness Month and National Sun Awareness Week, we are looking at the different types of skin cancer and how to spot them.
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma can usually be completely cured with simple treatment or minor procedure. But melanoma behaves differently. It grows quickly and needs to be treated early.
Melanoma can affect people of any age, and accounts for 90% of skin cancer deaths. While the sun is the main culprit, sunbed overexposure can also result in melanomas developing, with the biggest risk being damage from burning when you were young.
Certain skin types are more prone to melanomas, for example someone with lots of moles or pale skin. People with red or blonde hair may also be more susceptible, as can someone with a close family member who has had melanoma.
It is so important to check our skin regularly, whether with a mirror or by enlisting the help of a loved one.
Most moles are flat, although some are raised. They can be pink, brown or black. If you notice a new mole or that an existing one has changed – become itchy, started bleeding or won’t heal – don’t delay in getting it checked out by your GP. It may be harmless, but the sooner you get it looked at the better.
How to check your moles
When it comes to checking moles, use the ABCDE test to help you to remember what to spot.
Asymmetry: non-cancerous moles are often symmetrical. Is one half of the mole different to the other?
Border: are the edges uneven or rough or does it merge into the surrounding skin? Non-cancerous moles will have smooth, even borders.
Colour: is it one shade of colour or is it showing multiple colours?
Diameter: melanomas are usually larger than 6mm
Evolving: moles don’t usually change, so speak to your GP if it’s showing any new symptoms.
Your doctor will determine whether the mole is malignant – aka cancerous – or benign, which means non-cancerous.
If a melanoma is found to be malignant, the treatment will usually involve surgery. The earlier you can spot it and get treatment, the more likely a successful outcome.
Whether applying liberal amounts of sun cream and dressing appropriately for the sun (especially if you’re in one of the riskier groups) or checking your skin regularly, prevention is always better than cure.