The month of May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer is one of the most common, but also most preventable, forms of cancer. Approximately 90% of nonmelanoma skin cancers, along with 85% of melanoma cases, are linked to the excessive exposure of UV radiation from the sun. Therefore it is important to make people aware of the risk factors associated with developing skin cancer and how to protect yourself, as the majority of skin cancers are curable if caught early.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. In the UK, 1 in 36 males and 1 in 47 females will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in their life. While this is a concerning statistic, 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK are preventable. This makes it important to spread awareness on how people can protect themselves from developing skin cancer.
What is the main cause of skin cancer?
The main cause of skin cancer is the over-exposure to UV radiation from the sun. This exposure causes damage to the DNA of the skin cells, altering their function. This leads to a loss of control in their growth, giving rise to a collection of cancerous cells.
There are 3 main types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma:
This is the most common type of skin cancer. It is the slowest growing form of skin cancer, meaning it doesn’t easily spread. This makes it easier to be caught and treated early and can leave minimal damage to the skin. This type of cancer is formed due to excessive sun exposure causing DNA damage in basal cells, leading to uncontrolled growth.
Basal cell carcinomas can usually appear as red patches, shiny bumps, pink growths, open sores or resemble a scar on the skin. They commonly appear on areas of the body which have been most exposed to the sun so tend to be easily noticed.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma:
This is the second most common form of skin cancer. It forms from squamous cells which are flat, thin cells that sit at the top layer of the epidermis.
When squamous cells become cancerous, they become rough, scaly patches that can bleed and/or itch. They can also appear as wart-like growths or open sores which don’t heal or heal but come back. This type of cancer can become dangerous if left untreated and reaches other areas of the body, however it is not normally life threatening if caught early.
This is a rarer form of skin cancer which develops in the melanocytes. This is a more threatening form of skin cancer due to its ability to spread to other areas of the body if not treated early. It is still curable if caught early, therefore prevention and early treatment is vital.
Melanoma can form in an existing mole, causing the colour, size or shape to change. It can however appear on previously normal skin.
Doctors use the ABCDE rule to explain some of the common signs of a melanoma:
- Asymmetry – When one half of a mole differs from the other half.
- Border – An irregular or poorly-defined border of the mole.
- Colour – The colour across the mole is not consistent; it has shades of tan, brown or black or can sometimes be red, white or blue.
- Diameter – A melanoma tends to be larger than 6mm when diagnosed, however in some cases they can be smaller.
- Evolving – This refers to a mole or lesion which is changing in size, shape or colour, or looks different to the others on the body.
Many doctors recommend that you check your skin for moles approximately once a month.
There are known risk factors associated with skin cancer, the main one being over-exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Regardless of the weather, it is highly recommended that all individuals wear a minimum of SPF30, ideally SPF50, on their skin as part of their daily skincare regime. This SPF should be water-resistant as well as broad-spectrum, meaning that it protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.
UVA rays are more typically responsible for the photoaging of the skin, such as the formation of wrinkles. UVB rays are more carcinogenic and more responsible for burning. It is the main cause of sunburn and reddening of the skin, typically causing damage to the skin’s outermost layer. UVA rays also make UVB rays more reactive, therefore are more dangerous when they are together.
An SPF50 offers a 98% protection from UVB rays when applied correctly. The number on the SPF tells you how long your skin would be protected from the sun’s UV radiation compared to when not wearing any protection. Therefore, an SPF50 makes your skin 50 times longer to burn than if you weren’t wearing any sunscreen. An SPF should be applied 30 minutes before going outside in the sun, while reapplying every 2 hours, or immediately after swimming or sweating.
While all skin types and colours are susceptible to sun damage, it is the case that paler individuals that burn more easily are at higher risk of sun damage and therefore skin cancer. Individuals at a higher risk of skin cancer are therefore those with light or red hair, with green or blue eyes.
Sunbeds are known to release UV radiation that are 10-15 times more powerful than the Mediterranean sun. Due to this short, high-intensity exposure to UV radiation, sunbeds dramatically increase an individual’s risk of developing skin cancer.
The Skin Cancer Foundation has found that using a sunbed only once before turning 35 years old can increase your risk of developing a melanoma by 59%, with regular sunbed use before the age of 30 increasing this risk by 75%. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified sunbeds as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning that it has the highest level of evidence to support that it directly causes cancer.
For that reason, sunbeds should be entirely avoided.
If you have experienced a severe sunburn in the past, for example in childhood or with blisters, you are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. This is because a single sunburn can damage the DNA of the skin cell which can alter their function and lead to uncontrollable growth.
Most moles are not harmful, however someone with many moles is at a greater risk of developing a melanoma.
Family History of Melanoma
You have a greater risk of developing a melanoma if one or more of your first-degree relatives, such as your parents or sibling, have had a melanoma before. Statistics have shown that approximately 10% of all people with a melanoma have a family history of melanomas. The specific factors that cause this genetic link are unknown, as it could be due to genetic mutations that run in the family, a shared family lifestyle with frequent exposure to the sun, a genetic tendency of fairer skin or a combination.
How to Protect Your Skin
- Wear a water-resistant, broad-spectrum SPF every day. This should be a minimum of factor 30, but ideally a 50. This should be reapplied every 2 hours, or reapplied immediately if swimming or sweating.
- Avoid the use of sunbeds
- Cover the skin, for example with sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat.
- Limit the time that you are exposed to the sun. The sun’s UV rays are strongest between the times of 10am and 4pm, therefore this is the ideal time to stay out of the sun.
- Check your skin once a month for any new or changing moles.
At The Cosmetic Centre, we have a range of sunscreens available so that you can choose what works the best for you.
Heliocare Gel SPF50 – This also offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays, as well as holding antioxidant properties that improve the general health of the skin, such as vitamin C and E. Heliocare sunscreens carry DNA repair enzymes, helping to repair that damage caused by sun exposure, while helping to prevent any further harm to your skin.
Heliocare Light and Brown – Heliocare also offers two tinted options of their sunscreen, combining a sunscreen and foundation into one. This comes in two shades of light and brown. This gives you coverage while leaving the skin with a natural, dewy finish.
EYN Protect – This is a lightweight, water-resistant SPF50 that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. It has moisturising properties, along with AHA’s, citric and lactic acid to help gently turnover the skin. It is naturally tinted, giving you an even appearance with a subtle glow.
It is important to have an SPF50 as a key component of your skincare routine. This will go on last after cleansing, serums and moisturisers. If you are wearing no makeup, it can be applied more frequently throughout the day.
When applying sunscreen, remember that it is not just your face being exposed! Often people forget to apply to other exposed areas, such as their hands and neck. These are prime areas where premature ageing can be most obvious.