A boom in cheap package holidays in the 1960s is partly behind the “worrying rise” in skin cancers in pensioners, Cancer Research UK suggests.
The charity says that although all ages are at risk, many older people would not have been aware of how to protect themselves four decades ago.
Figures show that 5,700 over-65s are diagnosed with the condition each year, compared to just 600 in the mid-1970s
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. There are two main types of cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin, and Melanoma which spreads faster in the body.
Regularly checking your moles and freckles can help lead to an early diagnosis and increase your chances of successful treatment.
Non-melanoma skin cancer
The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or patch on the skin that doesn’t heal after a few weeks. In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm, while cancerous patches are often flat and scaly.
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 – starts in the cells lining the bottom of the epidermis and accounts for about 75% of skin cancers
- squamous cell carcinoma – starts in the cells lining the top of the epidermis and accounts for about 20% of skin cancers
Non-melanoma skin cancer is mainly caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light comes from the sun, as well as artificial sunbeds and sunlamps.
In addition to UV light overexposure, other things that can increase your chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer can be: a family history of the condition, pale skin that burns easily and a large number of moles or freckles.
Non-melanoma skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world. There are more than 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer every year in the UK. Non-melanoma skin cancer affects slightly more men than women.
See your GP if you have any skin abnormality that hasn’t healed after four weeks. Although it is unlikely to be skin cancer, it is best to be sure.
You may be referred to a skin specialist (dermatologist) or a specialist plastic surgeon if skin cancer is suspected. A biopsy may be done to confirm a diagnosis.
Surgery is the main treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer. This involves removing the cancerous tumour and some of the surrounding skin.
Other treatments for non-melanoma skin cancer include cryotherapy, creams, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and a treatment known as photodynamic therapy (PDT).
Treatment is generally successful as, unlike most other types of cancer, there is a considerably lower risk that the cancer will spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer is completely successful in approximately 90% of cases.
Non-melanoma skin cancer is not always preventable, but you can reduce your chances of developing the condition by avoiding overexposure to UV light.
Help protect yourself from sunburn by using sunscreen, dressing sensibly in the sun and limiting the time you spend outside during the hottest part of the day. Avoid sunbeds and check regularly for signs.
The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. This can happen anywhere on the body, but the back, legs, arms and face are most commonly affected.
In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and more than one colour. They may also be larger than normal moles and can sometimes be itchy or bleed.
Melanoma happens when some cells in the skin begin to develop abnormally. It is thought that exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from natural or artificial sources may be partly responsible.
Certain things can increase your chances of developing melanoma, are the same as for non-melanoma cancers.
See your GP if you notice any change to your moles. Your GP will refer you to a specialist clinic or hospital if they think you have melanoma.
In most cases, a suspicious mole will be surgically removed and studied to see if it is cancerous.
You may also have a test to check if melanoma has spread elsewhere in your body. This is known as a sentinel node biopsy.
The main treatment for melanoma is surgery, although your treatment will depend on your circumstances.
If melanoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, surgery is usually successful.
If it isn’t diagnosed until an advanced stage, treatment is mainly used to slow the spread of the cancer and reduce symptoms. This usually involves medicines, such as chemotherapy.
Melanoma is the 5th most common cancer in the UK with around 13,000 new cases of melanoma diagnosed each year, with more than 2,000 dying each year.
The facts are clear:
Check your skin and see your GP if there are any changes or if you have concerns.
Protect your skin from UV rays and don’t use sunbeds or lamps.