Protect yourself from skin cancer during summer

About skin cancer

Incidences of skin cancer are rising all the time. In the UK since the early 1990s, melanoma rates have doubled and non-melanoma skin cancer has risen around two and half times. More recently in the last decade, melanoma rates have continued to increase by 50 per cent and non-melanoma skin cancer rates by about 60 per cent.

It is therefore more important than ever to ensure you know how to thoroughly examine your skin, what to expect from a dermatologist appointment and, with the summer months well and truly upon us, how to protect your skin from the sun.

Dr Kara Heelan, consultant dermatologist from The Lister Hospital, specialises in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer, and offers some advice around looking after your skin.

Skin examination tips

Patients are often shocked when they come to see the dermatologist and a full-skin examination is required. To help you make the most of this here are a few tips:

A full skin examination by a dermatologist is a great opportunity that should be taken advantage of at your appointment. The exam itself is usually very brief taking just a few minutes. It entails removing your clothing so that the dermatologist gets to visualise all of your skin.

It is important that your whole skin is visualised so the patterns and types of mole that you have are seen. The more moles you have the longer the exam will take. If unusual moles are noticed, you may be sent to the photographer for close up images to be taken of specific ones, so that these can be monitored.

Sometimes your dermatologist may take a biopsy from your skin. A biopsy means taking a sample of a small piece of skin that can be examined under the microscope. This is performed under local anaesthetic.

Remove nail polish from fingers and toes before examinations and be prepared to take off make-up if necessary so bring some supplies in case you need to reapply. Don’t wear fake tan as this will make the examination more difficult and not as accurate.

Ask your dermatologist how to perform a self-skin examination

Don’t forgot the scalp, in between the toes and the bottoms of the feet. Self-skin examinations are important for you to do at home at regular intervals. This increases your chances of noticing something unusual so that you can present to the dermatologist for investigation at the earliest stage possible.

Things to be concerned about are new, changing lesions, very itchy or bleeding ones and lesions that don’t heal up. Moles are not always brown coloured so look out for pink, red or skin coloured lumps and bumps also.

More about skin blemishes and lesions

Skin protection tips

Sun cream

It is important that we are careful in the sun, and be vigilant not to cause any damage to our skin. There is no such thing as a healthy tan. Sun cream is on of three ways to protect your skin, the others are, seeking shade and clothing. 

Look for a high sun protection factor (at least factor 30) sun cream which is broad spectrum.

Broad spectrum refers to the protection of the sun cream against both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA radiation causes skin ageing and UVB causes sun burn. Skin cancer is caused by both UVA and UVB radiation, UVA being more damaging to the skin overall.

Apply 20-30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply after swimming, exercise or every twohours.

Remember there is no such thing as all day sun cream.

Wear protective clothing in addition to sun cream.

A shot glass quantity (one ounce, 30mls or two tablespoons) is required to completely cover the whole body in a bathing suit.

The type of sun cream one uses (gel, spray, cream, mist) is not necessarily important but finding a formulation that you like using will make it more likely that you do use it and reapply it often.

Seek shade

If possible sit under a tree, use an umbrella on the beach and walk on the shady side of the street, especially between 11am and 3pm.

A beach umbrella gives approximately 50 per cent protection from the sun.

Protective clothing

Wear protective clothing, tightly woven clothing which is dark in colour is best.

Take opportunities to wear long sleeves, hats and remember to protect necks and ears.

Ensure sunglasses have UV protection.

Sun protective clothing is extremely important for children who are much less likely to seek shade. Keep them covered up especially while in swimming pools for long periods with sun protective suits.

Moles are not always brown coloured so look out for pink, red or skin coloured lumps and bumps also.

Dr Kara Heelan
Consultant dermatologist, The Lister Hospital