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Skin cancer and what to look out for

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

Clinically reviewed on 5/5/2022 by Bryony Lathbury

Longer days and warmer temperatures are always welcome as winter draws to a close. It’s easy to get carried away and soak up every last ray because, let’s face it, after wrapping ourselves in layers for months, it really does feel good. However, while some sun on your skin is a good thing, boosting your vitamin D levels and raising your spirits, it’s really important to be aware of the harm that too much sun can cause. It’s also vital that we know what signs to look out for to ensure that potential melanoma skin cancer, the most dangerous type, is treated early.

Skin cancer types


Melanomas are less common than non-melanoma skin cancers, but they are potentially more dangerous. Although they can develop from existing moles, in adults, 70% of melanoma cases are new marks or lesions1. 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 28 September 2021) - https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer/incidence#heading-Zero

What to look out for


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.


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. 

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Staying safe in the sun


Vitamin D deficiency in the UK has been highly publicised in recent years and this has led to some confusion about the need for increased exposure to the sun in order 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
  • 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


Almost one in five consultationswith 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 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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