Inform yourself of Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Hand touching shoulder

Skin cancer awareness month usually takes place each May and aims to raise awareness of the dangers of exposing yourself to the sun without any protection and educate people on how they can prevent themselves from getting skin cancer.

Throughout May, people who have been affected by skin cancer are encouraged to share their stories on social media using the hashtag #MySkinCancerJourney. Others are also welcomed to share information and their experiences preventing skin cancer, remaining safe in the sun and early detection.

The different types of skin cancer

Non-melanoma refers to different skin cancers which grow in the epidermis of your skin (the upper layer). You can be diagnosed with either basal cell carcinoma (BCC) or squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), but most non-melanoma diagnoses are BCC.

Non-melanoma cancers usually appear on the areas of the body that have the most exposure to the sun; upper chest, face, ears, shoulders, hands and back. Both BCC and SCC types of cancers generally don’t spread to other parts of the body. However, in some very rare cases, SCC cancer tumours can spread to the lymph nodes.

Melanoma skin cancer can spread and attack other parts of the body, which is why it is the more serious type of skin cancer.

What to look out for

It is advised to check your moles at home every month, especially if you have lots of freckles or moles, have lighter skin, regularly expose your skin to the sun or have a history of skin cancer in the family.

When checking your moles at home, lookout for a change in their shape, colour and size. You can use a full-length mirror or handheld mirror to check over your whole body, including the soles of your feet, your scalp and your fingers and toes. It is a good idea to take pictures of any moles you might have so you can see if they have changed since you last checked them.

A good way to know what to look out for is by using the acronym ABCDE.

A – Asymmetry– Moles should be symmetrical and a common sign of melanoma is a mole which is asymmetrical.

B – Border – If your mole has borders that are uneven, such as a notch or scalloped edges, this could be a sign of melanoma.

C – Colour – If a mole has a mixture of multiple colours, it could be a cause for concern. Colour changes within the mole are also something to look out for.

D – Diameter – Cancerous moles are more likely to be on the larger size. When a lesion or a mole is bigger than 6mm in diameter, you should get a professional to check.

E – Evolution – If the size, colour or shape of a mole is evolving or changing in any way over time, it could be cancerous. If there is also any itching, bleeding or crusting of the mole, this should also be noted.

If you have any concerns about your skin or any of your moles, ask for a professional dermatologist to check them for any signs of cancer.

What can cause skin cancer

Overexposing your skin to the sun and tanning beds are the main cause of all skin cancers. There are some risk factors which can further increase your chance of getting skin cancer. Below are some of these risk factors:

  • A previous history of non-melanoma skin cancer
  • A family history of skin cancer
  • Lighter skin that is more susceptible to burning
  • A high number of freckles or moles on the skin
  • Already taking medicine that suppresses the immune system
  • An existing medical condition that suppresses your immune system

Melanoma appears when skin cells begin to develop abnormally. Sudden intense exposure to the sun, such as sunburn can cause these cells to develop. Other factors that can increase your chance of developing melanoma include:

  • A high number of freckles or moles
  • Lighter skin that is more susceptible to burning
  • Blonde or red hair
  • A close family member has had melanoma.

More than 1 in every 4 skin cancer cases are diagnosed in people under 50, which is extremely early compared to other types of cancer. In the more recent years, skin cancer in the UK has become much more common.

Be sure to check your body regularly and stay safe in the sun. If you have even the slightest concern regarding a mole or any other anomaly on your skin, see a dermatologist as soon as possible.

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