It’s that time of year; spring has finally arrived and the warm days of summer are tantalisingly within reach. It’s time to dig out the summer wardrobe and the sunglasses and get out into the garden, the park, the beach or the sun terrace. But, before you do, make sure you also search for the sun cream!
According to Cancer Research UK, on average, around 5,700 pensioners are now diagnosed with melanoma (a type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body) each year, compared with just 600 in the mid-1970s. The charity have also reported that people over 65 are around seven times more likely to develop malignant melanoma compared to 40 years ago.
Cancer Research UK report that: “While age is one of the biggest risk factors for melanoma the huge increase in pensioners being diagnosed with the disease is likely to be linked to the cheap package holiday boom dating from the 1960s, and the desirability of having a tanned appearance even at the expense of painful sunburn.”
“Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of developing malignant melanoma and even reddening of the skin is a sign of damage.”
Other risk factors include having a family history, having lots of moles or having fair skin and a tendency to burn.
So what can we do now to prevent further risk of skin cancer occurring or developing?
Dr Julie Sharp of the charity said: “Many cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, are preventable by taking precautions in the sun and making sure you don’t burn.”
As far as possible, avoid direct sunlight, especially between 11am and 3pm. When you are outside in sunshine, make sure you cover up your skin or wear a high factor sunscreen; sunscreen should be a minimum of factor 15 and at least four stars. Wear a sun hat to keep the sun off your head, face and neck. It goes without saying that sunbeds should be avoided.
Skin cancer isn’t always preventable, but taking these precautions will reduce the risk. Remember that it is easy to get caught out, especially in spring and early summer when we may not be prepared or expecting the sun to make an appearance! While many people get burnt on holiday, it is also all too easy to get sunburnt at home whilst doing the gardening or taking a stroll.
Whether or not you have ever been sunburnt, you should check your skin regularly, looking in particular, for any change in a mole. The NHS advises that if a mole: “changes shape or looks uneven; changes colour, gets darker or has more than two colours; starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding or gets larger or more raised from the skin”, you should see your GP.
Prof Richard Marais, Cancer Research UK’s skin cancer expert, advises people of all ages to keep an eye on their skin: “Seek medical opinion if they see any changes to their moles, or even to normal areas of skin. Melanoma is often detected on men’s backs and women’s legs but can appear on any part of the body.”
For more information, visit: www.nhs.uk/conditions/