People often think it is a hot sun that causes skin cancer but in fact, it is the ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun that is responsible for skin cancers.
When the UV index is 3 or above we need to protect our skin. In Ireland, the UV index is usually 3 or above from April to September, so we need to get into the habit of protecting our skin even on a cooler, cloudy day.
Skin cancer is the most common and fastest-growing cancer in Ireland with over 11,000 cases each year, yet by adopting the SunSmart 5’s the majority of skin cancers caused by UV exposure could be prevented.
As well as the 5S’s it is important to remember:
- Do not deliberately try to get a suntan
- Remember tanned skin is damaged skin
- Avoid getting a sunburn
- Never use a sunbed
Children have lower concentrations of the protective skin pigment melanin and thinner skin, therefore are more susceptible to the dangers of UV. Three or more instances of severe sunburn during childhood over doubles the risk of developing melanoma in later life. Plan ahead and keep sun protection handy—in your car, bag, or child’s backpack.
What if defence doesn’t work?
Finding melanoma at an early stage is critical. Early detection can vastly increase your chances for survival.
Look for anything new, different or changing on both sun-exposed and sun-protected areas of the body. Melanomas can arise anywhere on the skin, even in areas where the sun doesn’t shine, like between the toes, under nails, soles of feet etc.
Things to watch out for include: changes in shape, colour, size or if you notice bleeding, itching, pain or ulceration.
The ABCDE checklist can help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma:
A is for Asymmetry. Most melanomas are asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves don’t match, so it looks different from a round to oval and symmetrical common mole.
B is for Border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges, while common moles tend to have smoother, more even borders.
C is for Colour. Multiple colours are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colours red, white or blue may also appear.
D is for Diameter or Dark. While it’s ideal to detect a melanoma when it is small, it’s a warning sign if a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm in diameter) or larger. Some experts say it is also important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others.
E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, colour or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.
Images courtesy of HSE.ie
The ABCDE method can help you recognise some changes to look for but remember not all melanomas follow this pattern so if you do notice any of these warning signs, or anything new, changing or unusual on your skin, make an appointment with your GP.
Ireland has the lowest survival rate for melanoma in Europe but survival rates depend on the stage of disease at diagnosis. To achieve 100% survival, we need better UV awareness and protection and more skin cancer treatments so please be aware of how to protect yourself and your family and we’ll keep funding research into new, better, kinder and smarter treatments for cancer.