Melanoma Facts and Advice

If you are reading this you have taken a positive step towards healthier skin.

Here we will help you understand how and why to protect your skin, what to look out for, and when to take action. Please share this with your friends and family and keep everyone sun safe.

Melanoma and UV light

Sunburn should be avoided by individuals of all ages. There is increasing evidence that excessive sun exposure and particularly sunburn when aged under 15 is a major risk factor for skin cancer in later life. Protection of the skin of children and adolescents is therefore particularly important.

It is important to realise the cumulative nature of sun induced skin damage. This is of particular relevance to individuals now living in the UK who may have spent part of their lives in a tropical or sub-tropical environment.

Sun exposure giving rise to sunburn and subsequent skin damage, can take place in the UK. It is therefore essential to protect the skin of both adults and children in this country, particularly during periods of sunny weather during the spring and early summer.

Individuals who develop skin cancer do not always have a history of deliberate sunbathing. Those who have an outdoor occupation and those who have an outdoor recreation, such as golfing, gardening, skiing or sailing, are also at risk and must learn to protect their skin.

A four point approach to minimising sun induced skin damage is advised. These points are in descending order of importance:

Avoiding noon day sun

(between 11am and 3pm)

Seeking natural shade

in the form of trees or other shelter

Use of UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) clothing as a sunscreen

including T-shirts, long-sleeved shirts and hats

Use of broad spectrum sun screen with an SPF of 15 or higher

to protect against UVB and with additional UVA protection

There is no such thing as a safe or healthy tan.

A tan is a sign that already damaged skin is trying to protect itself from further damage. The protecting power of a tan is weaker than that of a mild sunscreen of SPF2-4. That in at least 4 out of 5 cases, skin cancer is a preventable disease.

Do not use sunbeds!

If you are thinking of using a sunbed, we advise you not to. But don’t take our word for it. Here is some advice from others:

“Sunbeds are estimated to cause around 100 deaths from melanoma every year in the UK” Cancer Research UK

“When it comes to sunbeds it’s unfortunately a big NO. Irrefutable scientific studies have shown a very strong link between sunbeds and melanoma and non melanoma cancers” Paul Banwell FRCS(Plast)

“Sunbeds are “linked to 100,000 cancer cases a year in the UK” Daily Express

The simple fact is that sunbeds are not a safe alternative to lying outside in the sun, as skin will still be exposed to harmful UV rays.

There are many health risks linked to sunbeds which include:

Skin cancer

Premature ageing of skin

Sunburnt skin

Dryness and itching

Bumpy rashes

Eye irritation

“Using sunbeds before the age of 35 increases your risk of skin cancer by up to 75%,” says Katy Scammell of Cancer Research UK’s SunSmart campaign “they also accelerate the skin’s natural ageing process!”

Laws on sunbed use

It is now illegal for people under 18 years old to use sunbeds, including in tanning salons, beauty salons, leisure centres, gyms and hotels.

Although we obviously do not recommend using a sunbed, this advice is even more relevant to melanoma if:


You have been sunburnt in the past, particularly in childhood

You have fair skin that burns easily

You have a large number of freckles or red hair

You have a large number of moles

You’re taking medication that makes your skin more sensitive to sunlight

Anyone in your family has had skin cancer in the past

Further information can be obtained from the Cancer Research UK website at www.cancerresearchuk.org


Vitamin D and the sun

Doctors have warned recently about a sharp rise in cases of rickets, the bone disease in children. Vitamin D deficiency, which causes the condition has been blamed on that fact that children spend too long indoors, and also on parents who are over-vigilant with the sun cream.

According to a clinical review paper in the British Medical Journal by Professor Simon Pearce and Dr Tim Cheetham, there are several hundred cases of vitamin D deficiency reported among children in the UK every year.

“More than 50% of the UK adult population have insufficient levels of vitamin D and 16% have severe deficiency during winter and spring,” they say. “The highest rates are in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England. People with pigmented skin are at high risk as are the elderly, obese individuals and those with malabsorption.”

What can we do?

We produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays in sunlight. To keep the body healthy, we need 5 to 30 minutes of sun exposure to the face, arms, back or legs (without sunscreen) twice a week, every week. Exposure to sunlight is a risk for melanoma, but this is referring to ‘prolonged’ exposure.

It is recommended that we use sunscreen after a few minutes in the sun; even when the sun is obscured. As the sun is a rare sight in winter (and during summer in the UK) we really need to get additional vitamin D from our diets (or from supplements) during this time, even if you are an outdoor person.

The intensity of UVB rays is also reduced by clouds, pollution and UVB will not travel through glass, so sitting next to a window will not give you enough sunlight to make vitamin D.


Advice on skin checking

Skin checking is an effective way of detecting melanoma and other types of skin cancer early, when it is the easiest to treat. The best way to examine your skin is part of a routine check, which helps you get to know your skin and also your body better too. An all over check can detect other issues such as fungal infections, joint and flexibility issues and even vascular problems.

Use the following as a guide to keeping it regular, simple and effective:

Check your skin each month after your bath or shower, when you are already naked and have time.

Ensure the room has plenty of light and use a full-length mirror and an angled hand-held mirror to help you spot hard to see areas.

Check the following areas in turn and/or get your partner to check the areas that you cannot easily see.

Head

Face, neck, ears, and scalp (use a comb/blow dryer to move hair and reveal scalp)

Front of body

Including legs and genital area

Back of body

Including backs of legs and buttocks

Side of body and arms

Raise your arms to see all and remember undersides

Hands and fingernails

Check beds of nails and in-between fingers and both sides of hands

Feet

Toenails, soles of your feet, and the spaces between your toes

Learn where your moles and lesions are, and their usual look and feel. Check for anything new or changing, such as a…

  • New mole (that looks different from your other moles)
  • New red or darker colour flaky patch that may be a little raised
  • Change in the size, shape, colour, or feel of a mole
  • Sore that doesn’t heal
  • New flesh-coloured firm bump

Keep a skin journal: Write down the dates of your skin self-exams and make notes about the way your skin looks on those dates. Photo-documentation is a great way to help check for changes over time.

If you are a single man, ensure you spend extra time examining your back and tricky-to-spot places!

Trust your instincts. If you find anything that worries you, however insignificant it may appear, make an appointment to see your GP immediately.


Learn Your ABCDE

To help you spot all types of skin cancer early and when it’s most treatable, we recommend you learn the following code:

A

is for Asymmetry

One half of the mole does not match the other half.

B

is for Border irregularity

The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.

C

is for Colour

Variations from one area to another.

D

is for Diameter

While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller.

E

is for Evolving

A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or colour.

Share