In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, we would like to take a moment to bring awareness to forms of Melanoma and non-melanoma. We will be highlighting the characteristics of melanoma and its causes, so that each and everyone of us can learn to recognise the signs of skin cancer. We will also take a look at the precautions you should be putting into place to lower the risk of forming skin cancer and distinguish the differences between UVA and UVB rays.
What is skin cancer?
Melanoma is the 5th most common type of cancer in the UK, with approximately 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer being diagnosed each and every year. Non-melanoma skin cancer forms in the basal, squamous and Markel cells of the epidermis, whereas Melanoma develops in the skin’s Melanocytes – mature melanin forming cells.
New research conducted by the Melanoma Awareness Working Group concluded that almost 90% of melanomas are preventable. With this knowledge it is of utmost importance to spread the word about how to prevent skin cancer and how detrimental it can be.
Spotting the signs
Skin cancer takes on many forms, differing in appearance depending on the skin cell from which they develop. It is fundamental that if you spot any of these signs, that you immediately consult your local GP so that they (and perhaps also a dermatologist by referral) can examine your skin:
Signs of Basal cell carcinoma
- A ‘waxy’ bump
- A patch white or pink in tone
- A scar not inflicted by physical injury
- A open sore
- A raised growth with a rolled perimeter
- A growth which is crusty, itchy, sore, bleeds or oozes bodily fluids.
Signs of squamous cell carcinoma
- A wart
- Tough and thickened patch(es) of skin
- Scaly patches red in colour
- An elevated growth with a depression
Signs of Merkel cell carcinoma
This form is rare, but an aggressive skin cancer which typically progresses more rapidly in comparison to other skin cancers. It often appears within the top layer of skin with a pink, red or bluish lump. If detected early, the prognosis of a full recovery is promising.
The use of tanning beds and prolonged or continuous exposure to UV rays trigger changes within Melanocytes (pigment-producing skin cells). Such mutations within these cells can lead to the development of cancerous cells. Melanoma can present itself in any area of skin that is or isn’t exposed to the sun; although alterations in the size, colour, shape and texture of moles can indicate melanoma.
Prevention and precautionary measures
Skin cancer is a serious matter and it goes without saying that taking measures to prevent it should be at the forefront of our minds regardless of age, race and gender. It can affect anyone, but the good news is that there are plenty of actions which we can take to keep our skin safe and protected.
- Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen each and every day is the way forward! Experts recommend that you wear at least SPF 30 or higher to shield skin from UVA and UVB rays when spending extensive periods of time in direct sunlight, and reapply generously at least once every 2 hours to the face and body. On a daily basis – rain or shine, indoors or outdoors – you should apply a facial sunscreen which minimizes damage caused by UV rays and filters blue light omitted from phone/computer screens. Remember to not stop at the face – apply facial sunscreens to other exposed areas of skin including the neck and back of the neck, décolletage, hands, and tops of the feet if not wearing enclosed footwear.
- Always ensure that your sunscreen isn’t expired, most can only be kept for 12 months once opened.
- 2 tablespoons worth of sunscreen will cover your entire body – do this 30 minutes before going outside.
- Use a water resistant sunscreen if you intend to enter water. Sunscreens specifically for children are readily available at drugstores and pharmacies.
- In addition to wearing sunscreen, it is strongly advised that you wear sun-safe clothing, hats and eye wear to further protect skin and eyes, especially when the UV index is moderate to high.
- Consider installing UV window film or window shades for the windows in your home and car. Use a sun parasol whenever sitting in an open area to create shade.
- Avoid the use of sun beds at all times and refrain from sunbathing.
- Examine your skin head-to-toe every month to identify any changes to your moles or to see if you have any suspicious looking patches of skin, warts or sores.
- Visit a dermatologist once per year for a professional skin examination.
What are the differences between UVA and UVB?
When selecting a sunscreen, it is important to take into account that the product should provide both strong UVA and UVB protection as they are equally harsh on skin even if they behave differently. The d’Alba UV Essence Waterfull Sun Cream SPF 50+ PA++++ (50ml) is a great example of a broad-spectrum chemical sunscreen that shields against sunburn and cancer inducing UVB rays, and age-accelerating UVA rays.
Ultraviolet A (UVA) has a longer wavelength than UVB, and is more so associated with skin aging/premature aging of skin. UVA can penetrate through windows even on a cloudy or overcast day, and contribute to around 95% of the UV radiation detected on Earth.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) has a shorter wavelength than UVA, and is linked to skin burning. The intensity of UVB fluctuates throughout the daytime, although it is important to remember that UVB rays damage skin all year round, and can reflect off of surfaces such as snow and ice.
UV exposure is highest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m, and during spring and summer months the sun is at a higher angle, which increases UV ray intensity. It's important to protect yourself from the UV rays, especially if you're going spend more time outdoors.
For more information, please refer to these organisations which we used as a point of reference for this article: