Sun Awareness and Early Skin Cancer Detection

This week is Sun Awareness Week in the UK. The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) run their annual sun awareness campaign from April to September, and 3rd - 9th May 2021 is Sun Awareness Week. This year the focus is on early detection of skin cancer. Skin cancer diagnosis rates in the UK have been far lower than expected for the past year, and the BAD anticipate that this reduction is due to pandemic rather than an actual drop in cases. People may not have routinely noticed abnormal skin lesions in themselves or other people from not having as much social contact, and people may have been reluctant to report symptoms to their GP because of the concern about Coronavirus.

There are 3 main types of skin cancer - Melanoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma, and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. The latter two are classed as "non-melanoma skin cancers". These are far more common, but less likely to spread to other organs and are less deadly than melanoma. Skin lesions for non-melanoma cancers are more likely to look like scabs or lesions that do not heal properly, or lumps that are either scaly or pearly, and may be dimpled in the middle. They are very common on areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the face including lips and ears.

Melanomas are the 5th most common occurring cancers in the UK. They can arise in or near to a mole, but can also appear on skin that previously looked quite normal. They develop when the skin pigment cells become cancerous and multiply in an uncontrolled way. They can then invade the skin around them and may also spread to other areas such as the lymph nodes, liver and lungs. If this happens, melanoma can be fatal.

Do you have a mole or mole-like lesion that you are worried about, or know someone who has? Then use the ABCDE quick check reminder to assess and monitor

A - Asymmetry - do the two halves of the mole match? Are they symmetrical? Asymmetry can be a sign of melanoma

B - Border - does the outside of the mole look rugged or blurred? This could be a sign of melanoma.

C - Colour - is the colour changing? is the colour patchy or uneven? This could be a sign of melanoma.

D - Diameter - is the mole growing and changing shape? This could be a sign of melanoma.

E - Expert -IF IN DOUBT, CHECK IT OUT! Go to your GP first to report your skin lesion. They can assess you and refer you to an NHS skin cancer specialist for assessment if required.

Early detection of skin cancer can mean that less invasive treatment is required, can reduce the risk it will spread to other organs, and can ultimately save lives. If you are concerned about any skin lesions you have, or know someone who does, we would encourage you to contact your doctor as soon as possible. GPs and hospitals are open safely for those in need.

Quick ways to stay sun-safe

- Seek shade - the best way to stay safe in the sun is to avoid it, at least for long periods

- Many clothes offer better protection from UV rays than sunscreen. Cover up your skin with loose fitting clothes to protect from UV rays while keeping cool

- Wear sun screen whether it is cloudy or sunny, the UV rays can still penetrate and damage your skin

- Apply sun screen as the last step in your facial skincare routine

- Reapply sun screen as directed, taking into account factors such as time since application, water exposure and sweating

- Wear sun glasses to prevent sun damage to the eyes

- Always protect children - sun burn in childhood and early adulthood can significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer in later life.

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