In the UK, there are around 15,400 new melanoma skin cancer cases every year – that’s 42 every day – with the biggest cause being too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and sunbeds. All too aware of these risks, healthcare professionals are in a vital position to enlighten their patients about sun safety precautions, as almost nine-in-10 cases of melanoma could be prevented by implementing sensible safeguards and avoiding sunbeds. Katie Patrick, Health Information Officer at Cancer Research UK, tells us more.
After the clocks go forward, and spring gets under way, people look forward to making the most of the warmer weather and spending more time outside. Healthcare professionals can help members of the public and patients to protect their skin by taking opportunities to discuss how to enjoy the sun responsibly.
Both sunburn and suntan are signs that the skin has been damaged – and getting sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma.
Sunburn – Who’s at Risk?
Anyone can develop skin cancer so it’s important for everyone to stay safe in the sun – especially those who are actively seeking a tan during the summer months.
Sunburn doesn’t have to be raw, peeling, or blistering. If skin has turned pink or red, it’s sunburnt. For people with darker skin, it may just feel irritated, tender, or itchy.
Some things mean that people have a higher risk of skin cancer and should take extra care in the sun.
These include having:
• Skin that burns easily
• Light or fair coloured skin, hair, or eyes
• Lots of moles or freckles
• A history of sunburn
• A personal or family history of skin cancer
Top Tips for Skin Protection
When the sun is strongest, people should spend time in the shade, cover up with loose clothing, and use sunscreen as a last line of defence for parts which clothing doesn’t cover.
Whether at home or abroad, checking the UV index on the weather forecast is a sensible precaution. If it’s moderate or high (higher than three), people should think about protecting their skin. In the UK the sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm.
If it’s not possible to check the UV index, people can follow the shadow rule – it’s simple and works anywhere in the world.
They can just look at their shadow and if it is shorter than them this means that the sun’s UV rays are strong.
Sun and Sunscreen – Know the Facts and Beware of the Myths
Myth Number One: ‘You can only burn in the middle of summer.’
The sun can be strong enough to burn in the UK from the start of April to the end of September, even if it doesn’t feel that warm, or it’s a cloudy day.
Myth Number Two: ‘Higher SPF sunscreens are much better than lower ones.’
As SPF increases, the additional UV that sunscreen can absorb tails off, offering less added protection. People using sunscreen with a higher SPF may also stay out in the sun longer, increasing their risk of skin damage.
SPF15 should be enough to protect people wherever they are in the world, assuming it’s applied properly and used alongside covering up and seeking shade. People should also look for a star rating of four or five.
Myth Number Three: ‘Putting sunscreen on once is enough.’
This just isn’t true. Even if it says once-a-day on the label, all sunscreens should be re-applied regularly. Some products rub, wash, or sweat off more easily than others. But it’s also very easy to miss bits so people should put plenty on.
Skin – Changes and Checks
Although it’s a good idea for people to know what their skin looks and feels like normally, there’s no need for regular skin checks, or to map moles on diagrams or apps as this hasn’t shown any benefits. Most moles remain harmless, but occasionally the cells can become abnormal and develop into melanoma skin cancer. Moles that get bigger or change in colour or shape are important to get checked out by a doctor.
But unusual or changing moles aren’t the only thing to look out for when it comes to skin cancer. Other things include any change in a patch of skin or a nail; whether it’s a mark or mole that has been there for some time, or something new that appears. In most cases, it won’t be cancer, but it should still be checked out by a doctor.
For more information, or to find and order leaflets and posters on the sun, UV, and cancer, visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.