What we all need to know about skin cancer
- Credit: Archant
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, affecting one in five people. And summer is the time when GPs and dermatologists see a rise in consultations from those concerned they could be at risk.
Detecting a skin cancer and removing it early means it has little or no chance of coming back, according to private dermatologist Dr Deepak Rallan.
“Many people think that getting sunburnt now may lead to skin cancer, but the real risk accumulates over at least a couple of decades,” he says. “Sun screens were not widely used 30-40 years ago and sun damage in childhood is a major risk factor for skin cancer in later life.”
Norfolk-based Dr Rallan, who runs Diamond Skin Care’s SkinSafe Clinic, says he has made it his mission to reduce rates of late skin cancer diagnosis in Norfolk and Suffolk.
Rates are set to rise due to the increased use of sun beds and travel to sunny destinations.
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“The good news is if skin cancer is caught early, it is curable. The problem is, not everyone knows how to detect the signs of skin cancer at an early stage. Many people rely on family and friends to monitor and detect their skin growths and moles, using just the naked eye. Although some irregularities may be seen, it is difficult to spot these abnormalities early.”
Here, Dr Rallan answers some of the most common questions his patients ask.
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What are the signs of skin cancer and what should I look out for?
“The best way to tackle this (with minimal worry) is to focus on three very important tips which I always tell my patients about if they are concerned about a mole or skin growth,” says Dr Rallan.
1. If your partner or friend notices that one of your moles has changed. It’s true that all moles normally change, but they do so over a long period of time, for example over a year, two years or more.
2. If the change has happened over 3-4 months. That is very quick for a mole and may be a sign that something is wrong.
3. Know where to check on your skin. Look out for irregular-shaped, black moles. Melanoma (the most dangerous form of the disease) is commonly found in the upper back of men, followed by chest and arms. For women, it is commonly found in the lower legs, chest and face.
These are very strong reasons to get moles checked. It doesn’t necessarily mean skin cancer has developed, but it’s best to get it checked for peace of mind.
Dr Rallan says, “We have regularly seen patients who were referred or concerned about a particular mole, but the skin cancer was incidentally found in a completely different mole while checking the rest of the skin.”
Do I have cancerous moles?
“At the SkinSafe Clinic, we believe in “Early Detection = Life Protection”, so it is important not to wait for visibly abnormal signs to show before getting your moles checked. The most popular system for telling if a mole is cancerous is the ‘ABCDE’ (asymmetry, border, colour, diameter, evolving) method, but this is a late detection system and should only be used as a guide.
“The earliest cancerous changes are easily missed with the naked eye. Special training is needed to use a dermatoscope, which uses polarised light to catch what the eye misses.
A skin cancer screening takes around 30 minutes, which includes a review of the patient’s medical history and a head-to-toe skin examination. We encourage patients to mention any moles or growths they are worried about, so the dermatologist can decide on any monitoring needed and most of all, put their minds at ease.”
To find out more about Diamond Skin Care, visit www.beskinsafe.co.uk or call 01603 819125.
More on skin cancer
According to the British Skin Foundation at least 100,000 new cases of skin cancer are now diagnosed each year, and the disease kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK - that’s seven people every day.
Its tips about staying safe in the sun include:
Clothing: your first line of defence against damage from the sun, including a hat, T-shirt and UV protective sunglasses.
Find the right sunscreen: Use a sunscreen of factor 30 and look for a four or ideally five star UVA rating, which will help protect from UVA radiation, associated with skin ageing. Babies and toddlers should be kept out of direct sunlight.
Get your timing right: Skin needs time to absorb sunscreen, so apply 20 to 30 minutes before going out and reapply at least every two hours.
Seek shelter when the sun is strongest, typically between 11am and 3pm, especially if you are very fair skinned. Just 10 minutes of strong sunshine is all it takes to burn pale skin.