It's reassuring to know that skin cancer is highly preventable. By taking a few simple measures you can protect you and your family from getting skin cancer. Knowing what to look out for and monitoring your skin monthly helps in the early detection of skin cancer. Most skin cancers if diagnosed early can be treated and cured.
What is skin cancer and why is prevention important?
Skin cancer is when abnormal skin cells grow out of control. It is the most common type of cancer. Compared to other types of cancer, skin cancer is often diagnosed at an unusually early age. Skin cancer is identified in more than 1 in 4 people under 50 years. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer.
An encouraging 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK are preventable¹. This highlights the importance of skin cancer prevention. By using skin cancer prevention techniques, you can reduce your chance of getting skin cancer, especially if you are at an increased risk of developing it.
Who is at an increased risk of skin cancer?
Anyone can get skin cancer. However, some people with certain characteristics are more at risk. These include, people with:
- Pale skin
- Skin that burns or reddens easily or freckles
- Blue or green eyes
- Red or blonde hair
- Certain types and a large number of moles
- A family or personal history of skin cancer
- Older age
What are the different types of skin cancer?
If you have skin cancer, it is important to know the type of cancer you have so that you understand what to expect and your treatment options. The main types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma skin cancer is less common but is more likely to grow and spread than other cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancers occur more frequently but are less likely to spread and become life-threatening. They are most likely to develop in areas exposed to the sun such as your head and neck.
Top tips to prevent skin cancer
There are number of safety measures that you can take to prevent skin cancer. Many of these have been part of sun safety campaigns highlighting the top five tips of Slip, Slop, Slap, Slide and Shade.
- Slip on clothing to cover up. Clothing is a great barrier to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays and it doesn’t wear off like sunscreen. Always keep your shoulders covered as they can easily burn.
- Slop on a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects you from UVA and UVB rays with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, every day. Apply two tablespoons of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours. Swimming, sweating, towel drying and sport can reduce the effectiveness of your sunscreen, so always reapply after these activities. If you anticipate being outdoors for an extended period of time, use an SPF of 30 or higher. Sunscreens can be applied on babies over the age of six months but shade is a better option.
- Slap on a broad-brimmed or legionnaire style hat that shades your face, neck and ears.
- Slide on UV-blocking sunglasses. Solar UV rays can be damaging to your eyes, so it is important to wear quality sunglasses with a high eye protection factor (EPF). Close fitting and wraparound sunglasses are best as they stop the sun’s UV rays from entering though the sides and top.
- Shade provides refuge from the sun. It is best to seek shade especially between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun is at its highest intensity. Shield little ones by keeping babies and toddlers out of the sun.
It is also recommended that you avoid getting sun burnt and tanning and using UV tanning beds.
How to reduce your risk of getting skin cancer?
Found early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Skin exams help detect early stages of cancer and can reduce your risk of developing a dangerous skin cancer. 99 percent of all skin cancer cases are curable if they are diagnosed and treated early enough.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe each month
Skin cancer is a cancer you can see. Proactively examining your skin from head-to-toe each month for any changes can help you to spot cancer on time. Learning what to look for will help you see any warning signs during a self-exam. Regular skin checking gives you the opportunity to detect cancer early, when it’s easiest to cure. You should look out for any new moles and monitor any changes in your existing moles. If you see anything that you are worried about you should get it checked by a dermatologist as soon as possible.
- Get a professional skin exam each year
A full-body skin exam by a professional at least once a year can detect new moles and changes in existing moles. It also gives you peace of mind or provides an early diagnosis of skin cancer that can then be treated quickly. Many dermatologists use safe non-invasive dermoscopy. Dermoscopy magnifies and provides detailed images of spots on your skin. The mole is given a computerised score of its statistical risk of skin cancer. The images of your moles are stored to accurately track any mole changes in the future. You can have single moles checked through to a full body mapping of your moles. A full body mole mapping is useful for checking whether and where new moles have developed. Images of the last examination are compared to the new ones.
Understand what to look for
Characteristics of melanoma moles are defined by the ABCDE rule or the Glasgow 7-point checklist. However, you should use this checklist with some caution as not all skin lesions with these characteristics are melanomas and many turn out to be harmless.
- A – Asymmetry
- B – Borders that are blurred, irregular or jagged
- C – Colour variation
- D – Diameter larger than ¼ inch
- E - Elevation especially when uneven
Glasgow 7-point checklist
- Change in size
- Irregular shape
- Irregular colour
- Diameter greater than 7mm
- Change in sensation
Questions to ask about your moles to help decide whether to see a professional
- Do you have multiple moles (more than 50)?
- Is there a history of skin cancer in your family?
- Have you already had a melanoma?
- Do you have large moles (more than 2 inches in diameter)?
- Have you noticed any changes in your moles?
- Have you noticed any new moles on your body?
- Did you have severe blistering sunburns during your childhood or adolescence?
- Do you have very light skin?
If you answer yes to any of these questions, it is recommended that you have your mole or moles checked by a professional.
Here to help
Ramsay Health Care UK works alongside expert dermatologists and skin specialists. Many Ramsay Hospitals have the latest technology to investigate moles including dermoscopy to give patients peace of mind or an early diagnosis for any worrying moles. Rapid treatment is seamlessly available at our should it be needed.
³ Dr Mohsen Khorshid: https://www.moledoc.co.uk and https://www.sunnex.org