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Online GP

Sun safety for the whole family 

Find out how to stay safe in the sun, about the different types of skin cancer and what you should be looking out for.

Clinically reviewed on 21/7/2022 by Bryony Lathbury

Longer days and warmer temperatures are always welcome in the summer months. It’s easy to get carried away and soak up every ray to make the most of it in the UK or abroad. However, while some sun on you and your family’s skin is a good thing, boosting your vitamin D levels and raising your spirits, it’s important to keep you and your loved one’s sun safe. Being aware of the harm that too much can cause is vital, as well as knowing what signs to look out for to ensure that any melanoma skin cancer, the most dangerous type, is treated early.

Staying safe in the sun

Vitamin D deficiency in the UK has been highly publicised in recent years1 and this has led to some confusion about the need for increased exposure to the sun to counteract the imbalance. In fact, for most people, a few minutes a day outside in the summer months, maybe on a short walk or a quick coffee break, is sufficient to produce the required vitamin D levels so there’s no need to sunbathe or risk burning your skin.

It’s also a myth that using a sunbed before holidaying abroad is a good way to prepare the skin – the UV exposure from sunbeds is just as damaging as the sun’s rays. The British Association of Dermatologists recommend the following prevention measures2:

  • Protect the skin with clothing, including a hat, t-shirt and UV protective sunglasses
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed areas of skin. Re-apply every two hours and straight after swimming or towelling to maintain protection
  • Spend time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest
  • Look for a high protection SPF (SPF 30 or higher) to protect against UVB, and the UVA circle logo and/or 4 or 5 UVA stars to protect against UVA
  • Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight

You can find out more through skin cancer charity SKCIN at www.skcin.org or at www.cancerresearchuk.org.

Skin cancer and what to look out for

Over recent years, skin cancer has become much more common in the UK.3 This is thought to be the result of increased exposure to intense sunlight while on holiday abroad.

Melanomas are less common than non-melanoma skin cancers, but they are potentially more dangerous. Although they can develop from existing moles, in adults, about 70% of melanoma cases are not associated with existing moles but form as new marks on the skin.4 Melanomas can appear on any part of the skin but, for men, they're most common on the body, and for women, on the legs.

There are two main types of non-melanoma skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, and these are not connected to moles. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common, however squamous cell carcinoma is the more dangerous as it is the more likely of the two to spread to other parts of the body.

Skin Cancer: The Numbers

 

  • There are around 16,700 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every year, an average of 46 every day

  • Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, accounting for 4% of all new cancer cases

  • Each year more than a quarter (29%) of all new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK are diagnosed in people aged 75 and over

  • Over the last decade, melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have increased by around a third (32%) in the UK, increasing in females by 27% and in males by 38%

  • Incidence rates for melanoma skin cancer are projected to rise by 7% in the UK between 2014 and 2035
  • Around 9 in 10 (91.3%) of people diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer in England survive their disease for five years or more (2013-2017)

  • Using a sunbed before the age of 35 increases the risk of cancer by 59%

  • 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK are preventable

 

Source: Figures from 2016-2018 as provided by Cancer Research UK (Reviewed 21 July 2022) - https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer/incidence#heading-Zero

Any changes to the skin can be a concern, but in particular, look out for any mark on the skin that grows in size, changes shape, develops new colours, any bleeding, pain, crusting, redness around the edges or itching. Check your skin about once a month, looking out for any moles or marks that are changing or new. You could take photos each time you check to compare any changes, there are lots of apps available to support you with this.

Non-melanoma skin cancers tend to appear gradually and anywhere on the body but are most common on the areas of skin most exposed to the sun such as the head, neck, lips, ears and the backs of hands. Old scars, burns, ulcers or wounds that do not heal are also at-risk areas. They will often not be painful.

If you do have any concerns or think a mark has changed in appearance, always contact your GP as soon as possible so that diagnosis and any required treatment can be actioned quickly. It's always better to check.

Almost one in five consultations5 with Simplyhealth’s 24/7 online GP service relate to skin disorders, which lend themselves easily to on-camera discussions. The service is available to all Simplyhealth health plan customers and is a convenient and speedy way to address any concerns and obtain appropriate advice.

Remember - if in doubt, check it out!

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