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Staying safe in the sun

I love this time of year. The longer days, lighter mornings and warmer weather makes me want to get outside and enjoy the sunshine. You only have to visit one of our nearby beaches on the first hot day of the year to know I’m not alone!

photography of sun glaring through the hole of finger

As well as making outdoor activities more pleasant, the sun is also a vital source of Vitamin D. The current recommendation is that we should spend 20 minutes in the sun 2-3 times a week in the summer months to keep out Vitamin D levels topped up.

However the appearance of the warmer weather is not all good news. Prickly heat, sunstroke and premature ageing are a few of the downsides of sun exposure, but the most concerning is the risk of skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK with over 100,000 new cases in the UK every year and causes over 2500 deaths. The more sun you are exposed to the higher your risk of skin cancer.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but those with fairer skin, red hair or freckles are at a higher risk.

The commonest type is a basal cell carcinoma or BCC. This often starts as a pearly raised nodule that grows very slowly and may start to look like a crater or bleed. We see these on sun exposed skin such as the face , chest, backs of the hands and on scalps of balding men in particular. Although this type of cancer does not spread to other parts of the body, unless it is removed it will continue to grow and can start to damage surrounding structures.

Natural Sun cream bottle on table

The next commonest of skin cancer that we see is a squamous cell carcinoma. Most commonly seen in those 75 or over and again in the areas of the body that get most sun. A classic place to discover one of these is the top of the ear.

These cancers often look like warts, growing rapidly and crusting over or bleeding. It is vital that these are removed quickly as they can grow very quickly and then spread elsewhere.

Finally melanoma and perhaps the one that most people think about when they think of skin cancer Whilst it is the least common it can be the most deadly, often affecting younger patients than the two commoner varieties.

It usually presents as a dark patch on the skin, occasionally arising from an existing mole .

They often have an irregular border, may have different shades of black or brown within them and can become itchy, inflamed or bleed. Occasionally we see melanomas in unusual places such as under a finger or toenail.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but those with fairer skin, red hair or freckles, who burn rather than tan are at a higher risk. There is no such thing as a safe tan and frequent skin burning has been directly linked to future skin cancer.

All skin cancers are curable if they are detected at an early stage so it is vital to see your GP if you think you might have found something new. They will usually be removed surgically, often under local anaesthetic. However the longer a skin cancer has been there, the larger it may become and more extensive surgery required. If a cancer has spread beyond the skin treatments such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy or immunotherapy can also be used.

Your 7 Step Checklist to Reduce Your Risk This Summer

  • Try and avoid the hottest time of the day from 11am – 3pm
  • Apply sun cream that is factor 30 or greater every two hours
  • Take extra care with babies and children – sun exposure now will increase their
  • cancer risk later on in life
  • Wear clothes that cover your skin and a wide brimmed hat to protect your scalp, neck and face
  • Don’t be fooled by cloudy days, the harmful ultraviolet rays can still
  • penetrate and cause damage