Staying safe in the sun and reducing the risk of skin cancer.
Exposure to sunlight is essential for our overall health and wellbeing - it initiates the process of producing vitamin D in the body, which helps to support healthy bones, reduce inflammation, and boost the immune system. However, too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause damage to the skin and may lead to skin cancer.
With the start of spring and more sunlight on the horizon, it is important to know how to keep our skin safe in the sun and be aware of the risks of skin cancer. Upcoming Skin Cancer Awareness Month and Sun Awareness Week starting on the 1st of May, are a great opportunity to raise awareness of skin cancer, promote sun safety and encourage people to carry out regular skin self-examinations.
Skin cancer occurs when skin cells become abnormal and it is divided into two main groups: non melanoma skin cancer and melanoma skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancers usually develop in the outermost layer of skin (epidermis) and are often named after the type of skin cell from which they develop. The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and behaves differently to a non-melanoma cancer, as it develops in cells in the skin called melanocytes. Find out more about different types of skin cancer and see the examples of what they look like on the Skcin website.
More than 210,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed annually in the UK with rates predicted to reach almost 400,000 per year by 2025. Also, every year in the UK over 16,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma - the deadliest form of skin cancer. - Skcin
Some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others. Most skin cancers are caused by skin damage which results from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun. According to Skcin, around 90% of all skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to UV radiation from the sun and/or sunbeds. Other risk factors include a family history of skin cancer, pale skin that burns easily, a large number of moles or freckles, and a weakened immune system. You can find out more about causes and risk factors of skin cancer on Macmillan Cancer Support website.
STAYING SAFE IN THE SUN
The majority of all skin cancers are preventable by adopting simple sun safe strategies. While staying outdoors, remember about these five sun protection measures:
Use a good quality sun cream that is at least SPF30 and water-resistant. The sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection. SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest form of UVB protection. Also, make sure that the sun cream is broad spectrum and has an UVA symbol on it. The UVA star rating on the packaging ranges from 0 to 5 and it is recommended to use a sun cream that has a UVA minimum 4 star.
Apply the sun cream to all exposed skin 30 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply it at least every two hours. And remember that even if you use water-resistant sun cream, you’ll still need to reapply it straight after you’ve been in water because water washes sunscreen off, and the cooling effect of the water can make you think you're not getting burned. Water also reflects ultraviolet (UV) rays, increasing your exposure. Have a look at Sunscreen Fact Sheet from British Association of Dermatologists to find out more about a sunscreen.
Wear clothes that provide sun protection, such as trousers or long skirts, a long-sleeved top, and a wide-brimmed hat. You should wear clothes made from breathable fabric with a tight weave to stop UV rays getting through.
Remember that your skin is not the only thing that needs protection from the sun. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes against UVA and UVB. The sunglasses should fit well, display a CE mark on the label and offer 100% UV protection. Also, avoid looking directly at the sun, as this can cause permanent eye damage.
Wear a wide brimmed hat to protect the scalp and shade the face, neck, ears, cheeks and eyes. A close weave or UPF rated fabric provides best protection. Be aware that baseball caps don't provide adequate shade and you should take extra measures to protect the back of the neck, ears and face.
While it’s tempting to soak up the sun, try to spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. The sun’s rays are strongest around midday when the sun is highest in the sky - usually it’s between 11am and 3pm.
Getting to know what your body looks and feels like normally is a really important way to pick up signs of skin cancer early on as you can be alert to any changes that occur. It is recommended that everyone practice monthly head-to-toe self-examination of their skin.
In this video, Saskia Reeken, a Nurse Consultant in Skin Cancer and Dermatology at Kingston Hospital in South West London explores how to examine yourself for signs of skin cancer.
Melanoma UK has prepared the Skin Check Toolkit that can provide you with further information on how to check skin for any suspicious changes. You may also want to use The Skcin App - a free, comprehensive, educational and self-management mobile application dedicated to the prevention and early detection of skin cancer. The app provides guidance on skin self-examination and can help you to track, monitor and compare changes to lesions.
If you notice any changes to a mole or patch of skin, or you find a new mark on your skin, speak to your GP. If the GP suspects that your symptoms could be caused by a cancer, they will refer you to a dermatologist for a specialist diagnosis.
FURTHER INFORMATION AND SUPPORT
To find out more information about skin cancer, its risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, please have a look at the below resources:
Sun Safety and Skin Cancer - booklet from Skcin
Skin cancer - information from Cancer Research UK
BBC Radio 5 Live - You, Me and the Big C: Putting the can in cancer, About Skin Cancers - podcast with Medical Advisor for Melanoma UK and Clinical Lead for Skin Cancer at the Royal Stoke University Hospital
To get help with any medical questions about skin cancer or to find support, you can call Melanoma UK on 0808 171 2455 or send them an enquiry form.
RAISING AWARENESS IN THE WORKPLACE
As part of creating a healthy workplace, employers should try to raise awareness among employees about the health implications the sun can have, the importance of appropriately protecting their skin and regularly checking their skin for signs of change. This could be particularly important among outdoor workers, such as those working on farms or construction sites, as they are exposed to direct sunlight for long periods of time.
Our 'Skin cancer and sun safety' webinar can can help employees learn about the causes and symptoms of skin cancer and how to protect their skin from the sun. It aims to encourage employees to do regular skin self-examinations and practice sun safety while they are outdoors. Get in touch with us to find out more about a webinar!