AS skin cancer incidents increase in the Portsmouth area, our health reporter Priya Mistry has looked at equipment that will help find out if there is a problem.
One of the best things about living on the sunny south coast is you can go to the seafront and enjoy the warm weather.
But sun seekers, those who work outdoors, or members of the armed forces are being encouraged to protect themselves against the sun’s rays.
This is because Portsmouth has a significantly higher rate of skin cancer diagnosis compared to the rest of the country.
And it’s a problem that isn’t going away, which is why commissioners in Portsmouth have invested in kit to allow GPs to investigate skin problems.
It’s a move that has been welcomed by consultant dermatologist Stephen Keohane, who works at the dermatology centre based in the former St Mary’s Hospital site.
The centre is run by Portsmouth Hospitals NHS Trust, and Dr Keohane says he has noticed an increase in the number of patients with skin cancer.
Melanoma is a rare and serious type of cancer that begins in the skin and can spread to other organs in the body.
Dr Keohane says: ‘I started in 1998 in Portsmouth, and then there were about 100 melanoma diagnosis per year.
‘Last year there were 350.
‘Melanoma is largely related to acute exposure to the sun, or getting sun burn.
‘There has been a 28 per cent increase on the rate of referrals from this time last year.
‘Non melanoma is exposure to the sun over a accumulative period of time.
‘Portsmouth has an aging population, and as more people are living longer then these sorts of problems start to develop.
‘So people are coming into us who are in their 80s, 90s and even 100.
‘This area also has a large population that were or are in the armed forces.
‘They can be exposed to long periods of sun in the tropics and then come back and have problems.
‘There are also different grades of skin.
‘Grade one will be very fair skin that is likely to burn very quickly, and grade six is African skin, which is the most-pigmented and therefore protected from the sun.
‘In Portsmouth we have higher numbers of lower graded skin. All of this contributes to having a higher rate.’
The Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has spent £25,000 on investing in dermatoscopes.
The equipment allows a GP to examine skin problems and see if there are signs of skin cancer.
The funding has provided equipment for 13 GP practices in the city.
And a further £1,500 to fund training in the use of the equipment.
The kit allows GPs to check skin lesions and send images to dermatologists at Queen Alexandra Hospital, for further advice and guidance.
Dr Tim Wilkinson, is on the governing board of the Portsmouth CCG.
He says: ‘Skin cancer is a significant risk, and the rates of the disease in Portsmouth are notably higher than the average across the rest of England.
‘We want to support GPs across the city to identify the most serious forms of the disease at the earliest possible stage, and so we have funded a trial scheme to give them the equipment they need to do just that.
‘If the scheme works as we hope it will, GPs will be able to make a far more accurate, confident diagnosis than was previously the case.
‘That means that those people with a potentially life-threatening form of the illness will immediately be fast-tracked to the specialist care they need, while those who are not at risk of having a melanoma will be spared the stress of an urgent cancer referral, which is an incredibly traumatic process to go through.
‘The intention is to improve patient care, and to use our resources more efficiently.
‘We will assess how well the scheme has worked after a year, and then decide whether it should be extended across the whole city.’
Dr Mo Wai is a GP at the Kingston Crescent Surgery, in Kingston Crescent, Portsmouth, and has been trained to use a dermatoscope.
He says: ‘This piece of kit is truly brilliant and will help patients that are concerned about a mole or a freckle, to get help in a more accessible way.
‘They can make a normal appointment with their GP, and in a matter of minutes can get an idea if there is a problem or not.
‘If there isn’t then it’s great, and the patient doesn’t face any agonising waits.
‘If there is a problem then it means we can get to work quicker on getting a diagnosis and treating the patient.’
And Lee Hobson, 38, of Pitchcroft Road, in North End, decided to get some of his freckles checked out.
He says: ‘My dad had a mole removed because he was worried it was becoming dangerous. I have a lot of freckles so I decided I wanted to get myself checked out.
‘Summer is here and I have my arms out more and wanted to be sure there’s nothing to worry about.
‘I made an appointment with my GP, and when I arrived he used the scope on my arm Very quickly he was able to check and let me know there was nothing to worry about. I think it’s great because it calmed me down, and if there had been a problem then things would move quickly for further tests.
‘The test was quick and painless and I think it’s a great idea that these are available in GP practices.’
STAYING safe in the sun is a good way to protect your skin from harmful rays.
Cancer Research UK has created a website which gives advice and tips on how to look after yourself in the warm weather.
The tips have been endorsed by consultant dermatologist Stephen Keohane, who works at the dermatology centre based in the former St Mary’s Hospital site.
He says: ‘Covering up is much more effective than sun block.
‘But if you are going to use sunscreen then you should be looking at at least factor 30 for it to be effective.
‘You should also reapply every two to three hours, and more so if you are in and out of the water.
‘I would urge people to look at Cancer Research UK’s site.’
The website says the best way to enjoy the sun safely and protect skin from sunburn is to use a combination of shade, clothing and sunscreen.
When the sun is strong or you’re at risk of burning:
- Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
- Wear a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
- Use a sunscreen with at least factor 15 and a high star rating.
The charity said the sun’s UV rays are strongest in the UK between 11am and 3pm, and can differ in different countries.
When travelling abroad, a way to find out when the sun’s rays are at their strongest is to look at your shadow – if it is shorter than your height, this means that the sun’s UV rays are strong.
UV rays are stronger as you go higher up, so skiers and mountaineers, should pay extra care.
And cloud cover doesn’t stop rays from coming down, so despite it being cloudy you still need to protect yourself.
To find out more, visit sunsmart.org.uk.
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