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Skin cancer: do you know th...

Skin cancer: do you know the signs?

By Catherine Hall, Pall Mall Medical,

If you're thinking about catching a few rays this summer, you'll need to make sure you're doing whatever possible to protect your skin. Research from Cancer Research UK shows as many as 14,500 people per year are diagnosed with melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and is most common in people under the age of 50. 
 

What is melanoma?

Malignant melanoma, or melanoma, develops in the melanocyte cells of the skin. These cells make a pigment which gives our skin its colour and protect us from harmful UV rays. When melanocyte cells are damaged, the DNA of new cells coming through can be affected, causing cancerous cells to form.
 

What causes melanoma?

Skin cancer is predominantly linked with over exposure to UV light. However, there are other contributing factors, such as:
Genetics - some skin types are more susceptible to melanoma than others.
Medical conditions - research shows people who suffer from other medical conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome, could be more at risk of melanoma.
Cancer - people who have previously had cancer are more at risk of getting melanoma than others. Cancer Research UK reports people who have previously had melanoma are eight to 15 times more likely to get melanoma again than those who haven't had it before.
 

What does melanoma look like?

Melanoma can originate in an existing mole and will become visible as its shape, colour and texture change. Therefore, it is important to regularly check your moles and seek expert advice if you notice any of these changes, as they could be signs of skin cancer. Knowing what is and isn't normal when checking the appearance of moles could be life-saving. 
Melanoma may also appear as a lesion on the skin. If you notice a patch of skin changing in colour or texture, see a doctor or a private dermatologist for a private cancer screening test.
 

Top tips to prevent melanoma

The sun is the main source of natural UV light which can cause skin cancer, but it is also our main source of vitamin D, which is essential for absorbing the calcium our bones need for growth and development. 
 
Staying out of the sun to avoid skin cancer is unrealistic. Instead, follow these top tips to stay safe in the sun this summer:
 
1. Cover up - if you're outside for long periods of time, make sure you wear appropriate clothing to ensure your skin isn't exposed to too many harmful UV rays.
 
2. Wear sunscreen - to give your skin the utmost protection, experts advise that you wear sunscreen all year round.
 
3. Avoid sunbeds - it's not just natural UV light from the sun that can cause skin cancer. UV light from sun beds can too, so reduce your how much you use them, or even better, cut them out completely.
 
4. See an expert - if you suspect a mole or a patch of your skin is changing, book an appointment with a private dermatologist immediately.