There are some things in life that are non-negotiable; making time for your mental health, roast dinners on a Sunday, and wearing sunscreen. The latter is of the utmost importance all year round, most notably because sun exposure and harmful UV rays can cause skin cancer. According to Cancer Research UK, skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with 86 percent of skin cancer cases being caused by overexposure to the sun.
Recently, Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, announced she had been diagnosed with malignant melanoma after having a mole removed, just months after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Molly-Mae Hague has previously spoken about having a mole removed on her leg that was cancerous and needed further treatment, while Khloe Kardashian had a mole removed on her cheek that, after a biopsy, turned out to be precancerous melanoma.
The NHS outlines that there are ways to prevent skin cancer so early detection is vital. Read on as we speak to two experts who explain what to look out for and the things you can do to protect your skin.
Types of Skin Cancer
"There are two main types of skin cancer; non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer," says Kimberley Medd, Head of Clinic at Face The Future. "Melanoma is the least common but most dangerous type of skin cancer." This is because it is known for its ability to spread to other parts of the body quickly, which is why early detection is imperative. It can develop in an existing mole that changes colour, size, or feel, or can appear suddenly as a dark spot on the skin that looks different from the rest.
Non-melanoma cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The former "often looks like a flesh-coloured round growth, pearl-like bump, or a pinkish patch of skin but can also take other forms," Dr Dean Rhobaye, Medical Director at Élan Laser Clinics, tells POPSUGAR. "Squamous cell carcinoma can appear as a firm, red nodule, a flat sore with a scaly crust, or a new sore or raised area on an old scar or ulcer." Both can spread and cause issues if left untreated.
There are also other less common forms of skin cancer including merkel cell carcinoma which appears as a painless, firm, shiny nodule that may be red, pink, or blue; kaposi sarcoma which develops in skin and blood vessels as more likely in those with weakened immune systems; and sebaceous gland carcinoma which originates in the glands of the skin, appearing as hard, painless nodules often on the eyelid.
Causes of Skin Cancer
"Almost all skin cancers are caused by over exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun," Medd warns. "And it's not just sunbathing that puts you at risk, but being in the sun without adequate protection. If you regularly take part in outdoor hobbies or sports, or work outdoors you could be at greater risk."
If you often use sun beds to get a tan, then it's time to sit up and take note of the health risks, too. "Using sun beds for the first time before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by 59 percent," Medd adds. "Regular sun bed use under the age of 30 increases the risk of skin cancer by an alarming 75 percent." These might sound shocking, but it's so important to be aware of the risks. That's why fake tan can be your best friend instead!
"Other factors include having a fair complexion, family history of skin cancer, excessive sun exposure, history of sunburns, certain types of moles, and a weakened immune system," Dr Rhobaye adds.
Signs of Skin Cancer
Detecting skin cancer is key to a better prognosis and could save your life. That's why it's important to recognise the signs of skin cancer by checking your skin regularly. And that means looking over your whole body, too. Think soles of the feet, between your fingers, in your hair parting: are there any odd moles, growths, freckles, bumps, or birthmarks? "Seeking a professional evaluation for any suspicious skin changes is crucial," Dr Rhobaye says.
"The 'ABCDE of Melanoma' is a common screening tool used to compare the characteristics of normal moles versus melanomas," Medd explains. This includes:
A = ASYMMETRY: when one half of the mole does not match the other half
B = BORDER: when the borders of the mole are irregular, ragged or blurred
C = COLOUR: when the colour of the mole changes or varies throughout / no uniform
D = DIAMETER: when the diameter is greater than 6mm (but could be smaller)
E = EVOLVING: changes in the mole over variable time - weeks, months or years
How to Prevent Skin Cancer
Preventing skin cancer means you need to be diligent about your exposure to the sun. "UV protective clothing gives the best protection against the sun," Medd says, so keep skin covered when you can. "Always use a sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or above, preferably water resistant, reapplied at least every 2 hours and more if perspiring or straight after swimming." This means wearing SPF through winter, too. Just because it might not be sunny doesn't mean that harmful UV rays have disappeared.
Hats should be a staple in your wardrobe as well. A wide brim can shade the face, neck, and ears which are areas that can often be forgotten with sun cream. "Solar UV radiation can be damaging to the eyes so it is important to wear quality sunglasses," Medd adds. And be wary of the times of the day when UV penetration is strongest, usually between 11am and 3pm.
"Be extra cautious if you have skin that burns easily, have many moles or freckles, or have a family history of skin cancer," Dr Rhobaye adds. "Both self-examinations and professional skin exams can help detect early signs of skin cancer."
And, we continue to shout it louder for those at the back, avoid tanning beds. They increase the risk of cancer and, with so many tanning options available with much fewer risks, it's a no-brainer, no?