Welcome the rays but don’t let them kill you

PROFESSIONAL HELP St Mary's Hospital cancer nurse specialist Carol Coley checks a patients skin with a dermatoscope
PROFESSIONAL HELP St Mary's Hospital cancer nurse specialist Carol Coley checks a patients skin with a dermatoscope

From broken bones to new beginnings

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Skin cancer cases are soaring in our area as thousands of sun worshippers fail to protect themselves from harmful rays, The News can reveal.

Last year 274 people were diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – a 35 per cent rise year-on-year.

Experts at Portsmouth Hospital’s NHS Trust’s Dermatology Department also diagnosed 843 squamous cell carcinomas.

New cases of this less serious form of skin cancer fell by about five per cent from 2009.

But worryingly new cases of basal cell carcinoma – the most common form of skin cancer – rose by 12 per cent to 1,915 last year.

Medics put the rise down to a combination of factors including a failure to use adequate sun protection, a large service personnel population, Portsmouth’s south coast location and a high number of people who enjoy water sports and sailing as a hobby, so spend more time in the sun.

Carol Coley, skin cancer nurse specialist at Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, says: ‘The referral rate from GPs to the Dermatology Department has doubled over the last couple of months.

‘We are receiving about 15 to 20 (referrals) each day for people to be seen in our fast-track pigmented skin lesion clinic to check for a suspected skin cancer.

‘GPs are being more cautious.

‘Years ago sunscreen was not so readily available and people were not aware of the dangers of skin cancer.

‘Sunscreens need to have a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and a four or five-star rating.

‘By law in the UK all sunscreens have to have a star rating on their packaging.

‘The SPF protects against the UVB rays of the sun – the burning rays – and the star rating shows the protection level against UVA rays – the ageing rays.’

Worryingly, more patients are being diagnosed with skin cancer at a younger age.

Staff at the Dermatology Department have recently diagnosed several patients in their 20s and one 18-year-old girl with a form of skin cancer.

Understandably, Carol cannot stress the importance of adequate sun protection enough.

‘I would personally use a cream with at least a 40 SPF,’ she adds.

‘If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer you can get factor 50 plus on prescription.

‘The big thing is not to burn. Everybody needs a bit of sun. They say 20 minutes a day out in the sun gives you adequate Vitamin D.

‘Try to avoid between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its peak. You need to wear a hat to protect your face.

‘Sunbeds are a definite no-no. It can lead to premature ageing of your skin, wrinkles – you can look like a little bit of leather.

‘We are a seaside town.

‘We have got lots of people who like sailing as a hobby and service personnel.

‘People are becoming more aware of their moles, but some of them are leaving it too late.

‘If people have got moles they should take a digital image of them themselves, then they have got something they can check against once a month.’

She adds: ‘You can get a melanoma in your eye so you need to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from sunlight.

‘They don’t have to be expensive, as long as they have got the British Safety standard.

‘If you can see light through your clothes, you can get sunburnt.

‘There are sachets you can get to put in your washing machine and it protects your clothes with a Sun Protection Factor.

‘We have got skimpier clothes, we have got longer holidays which have got cheaper. It’s lifestyle as well.’

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR THE SIGNS AND PROTECT YOURSELF

WHAT TYPES OF SKIN CANCER ARE THERE?

There are several types of skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the UK every year. There are two types of non-melanoma skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Malignant melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer.

PROTECTING YOURSELF

Sunburn can double your risk of skin cancer, so avoid sunbeds and stay out of direct sunlight between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its peak.

Use a sunscreen with a high star rating and high sun protection factor to protect against harmful ultraviolet rays, which can also cause premature skin ageing.

Cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses and check skin for changes regularly.

Take digital photos of moles, which can be used to compare with future photos for changes.

If a mole changes or grows contact your GP and get it checked.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Basal cell carcinoma looks like a small, slow growing, shiny, pink or red lump. If left they can become crusty and ulcerate or bleed. They are most common on the face, ears, scalp, hands, shoulders and back.

Squamous cell carcinomas are normally pink lumps. They might have hard or scaly skin on the surface, can bleed easily and ulcerate. They are most commonly found on the face, lips, ears, hands, shoulders, neck, arms and legs.

A very early form of skin cancer is Bowen’s disease, which usually looks like a red patch, can itch and can appear anywhere on the body.

Malignant melanoma symptoms include a mole that is getting bigger, changing shape or getting an irregular edge, changing colour such as getting darker or becoming patchy or multi-shaded. Other symptoms include a mole that is itchy or painful, looks inflamed, bleeds or becomes crusty. Melanoma can start in the eye, but this is rare.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS?

Most skin cancers are caused by long-term sun exposure. The risk increases if you have had episodes of sunburn as a child.

Fair-skinned people, with light hair and eyes and those more likely to burn than tan have a higher risk.

Other factors that increase the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer are age, a family history of skin cancer, some skin conditions or radiotherapy, a weakened immune system or exposure to some chemicals.