Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world with the number of people diagnosed with the disease rising an average of five per cent each year. Over 100,000 new cases of skin cancer were diagnosed last year, so understanding the signs and symptoms and knowing how to stay safe in the sun is becoming increasingly important.
Joanne Upton, Skin Cancer Advanced Nurse Practitioner at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, based in Merseyside, talks to Female First about everything you need to know about skin cancer.
“There are two types of skin cancer: malignant melanoma, which is less common but more serious; and non-melanoma skin cancer, which is very common but not so serious.
“Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common form of the disease, about 90 percent of non melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. The good news is that this form of skin cancer is highly curable, if diagnosed early enough. With this in mind, it’s vital that people are aware of what to look out for and most importantly, ensure they’re getting checked out by their GP if they are worried about anything at all.
“Non-melanoma cancers appear in two types – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Things to look out for with basal cells are smooth and pearly marks, which may look waxy or firm, or red lumps which sometimes bleed and then develop a crust or scabs and begin to show signs of healing, but don’t fully go away. Squamous cell cancers can look a little different and may be firm red nodules, which look scaly and can sometimes bleed and be tender to touch.
“Both types of non-melanoma skin cancer often develop in areas that have been damaged by exposure to the sun when detected early, they are highly curable. They are mainly found on the face, neck, bald scalps, arms, backs of hands and lower legs.
“Malignant melanoma skin cancers are a little different and the nature of this form of the disease means it can spread much quicker, so getting any abnormalities checked out as early as possible is critical – half of these cancer cases start in normal-looking skin so it’s something patients should hopefully be able to pick up on quite quickly. Melanoma can grow very quickly. It can become life-threatening in as little as six weeks and, if untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. It can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun.
“It can be difficult to tell the difference between a melanoma and a normal mole so we use the ABCDE rule at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to help best inform patients as to how they can monitor skin changes:
- Asymmetry – Melanomas are likely to be irregular or asymmetrical. Ordinary moles are usually symmetrical (both halves look the same).
- Border – Melanomas are more likely to have an irregular border with jagged edges. Ordinary moles usually have a well-defined, regular border.
- Colour – Melanomas tend to be more than one colour. They may have different shades, such as brown mixed with a black, red, pink, white or bluish tint. Normal moles tend to be one shade of brown.
- Diameter (width) – Melanomas are usually more than 7mm in diameter. Moles are normally no bigger than the blunt end of a pencil (about 6mm across).
- Evolving (changing) – Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.
Staying safe in the sun
“The main cause of any form of skin cancer is over-exposure to the sun, or UV radiation, so the best advice we can give is to cover up as best possible in the sun – using high-factor sun creams and wearing wide-brimmed hats to avoid over-exposure to the face. Also, we’d suggest people stay away from sun beds as the UV radiation can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer.
“Other key pieces of advice would be to try and stay out of the sun at the hottest time of the day – between 11am and 3pm – and to wear sunglasses with UV protection to avoid damaging the eyes.
“It’s also important to keep our children safe in the sun and educating them at a young age of the dangers of over-exposure to the sun will hopefully keep them healthy in later life. Teachers are no longer able to apply sun cream in the playground on a hot day so sending children to school fully prepared and understanding the importance of sun protection will help keep them safe.
“One common misconception is that it’s only people with fair skin who are prone to burning in the sun are at risk from skin cancer. Although it is more common in people with pale skin and blonde or red hair, that does not mean olive-skinned people are immune to the dangers of the sun. As well as contributing to skin cancer, the sun can also cause us to age prematurely, which will affect everyone, so keeping the face protected as much as possible is important.”