May is ‘Skin Cancer Prevention Month’. While skin cancer is common, most cases can be cured if detected early, so it is important that everyone understands how to spot potential issues, says Dr Sharareh Ahmadi.
1 Skin cancer is very common
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland with over 11,000 new cases diagnosed in 2015. The National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) expects this number to double by 2040.
2 Two types of skin cancer
Skin cancers are generally named after the cells in the skin where they grow. The two main types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common and least serious, as they are less likely to spread to other parts of the body. They tend to appear gradually and anywhere on the body, but predominately on areas that have been exposed to the sun.
Melanoma skin cancers are less common but more dangerous as they can spread.
3 Over-exposure is to blame
Nine out of every 10 cases of skin cancer are caused by UV rays from the sun or sunbeds. These are predominately the 'non-melanoma' skin cancers which present as a scab or sore that will not heal, a scaly or crusty patch of skin that is red or inflamed, or a flesh coloured bump that won't go away and grows. The best way to protect yourself is to limit exposure to UV rays.
4 Existing moles can change
Melanoma skin cancers can develop from existing moles or appear as new marks on any part of the skin. Again, UV rays can play a factor. Any changes can be of concern, but in particular people should monitor moles to check if they grow in size, change in shape, develop new colours, bleed, become painful, crust, or become itchy.
5 Some people are more at risk
All skin types are susceptible to sun damage, but you are more at risk if you have pale or freckled skin that does not tan or burn, red or fair hair, or blue, green or grey eyes. People are also more at risk if they have a large number of moles, a history of sun burn, a family history of skin cancer, have had an organ transplant or are on immunosuppressive medications. Experiencing severe sunburn, particularly in childhood, increases the risk of developing skin cancer in later life, so if you're a parent it's vital to protect your children.
6 Protective clothing first
Sunscreen is of course also important. It's recommended that SPF30 or higher is applied to all areas of skin exposed to the sun. It should be put on 20-30 minutes before going outside, and at least every two hours.
UV radiation can also damage the eyes, so sunglasses with good quality lenses that filter out the UV rays are essential.
7 Clouds won't shield you
There is often a myth that in Ireland we don't have enough good weather to cause a problem with UV rays. This is not true. It's important to get into the habit of protecting your skin every day from April to September, whatever the weather.
8 Early detection is vital
Skin cancer can be detected early and everyone should practice a monthly head to toe self-examination, looking out for any new or changing lesions. It's important that skin is examined in a well-lit room, using a full-size mirror and a handheld mirror to see the back of the body. See a doctor immediately if you are concerned.
9 Treatments can vary greatly
Treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer. Many different specialties including dermatologists, plastic surgeons and oncologists are involved in treatment depending on what's required. It can include everything from removing a growth, to more serious surgery, to radiother apy treatment.
Dr Sharareh Ahmadi is a consultant dermatologist at Beacon Hospital