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Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is on the increase and has been significantly so for the last 3 decades. Consequently, it is now the commonest form of cancer overall, although thankfully, most types are treatable and not life-threatening. After the hottest weekend so far this year now is a timely reminder on simple ways help to prevent this disease.

The skin is the largest organ in the body and is constantly renewing itself. We shed around 60,000 skin cells every day and replace them all as well. The skin protects us, insulates us, and allows us to control our internal temperature. Yet this constant regeneration and exposure to environmental hazards makes our skin vulnerable. Our skin is especially vulnerable to ultraviolet light from natural sunlight or from sunbeds.

Traditionally, we have been told that UVA radiation causes the changes of ageing and that UVB causes the changes of burning. Both, however, can induce cancerous change and the longer the exposure to the sun over accumulated years, and the higher the number of episodes of burning – especially in childhood – the greater the risk of developing skin cancer.

People with certain skin types – blond hair, pale skin and freckles, are especially at high risk of skin cancer because of their lack of natural pigmentation. Young people can develop skin cancer and many of them die every year, leaving behind young families. Sadly, most are preventable deaths.

Yet everybody is vulnerable given sufficient exposure. Our awful British summers don’t decrease the risk either – in fact more people are holidaying abroad in hotter climates than ever before – and trying to make up for lack of sunshine by frying themselves as soon as they arrive at their destination.


Here are a few tips to help prevent sunburn this weekend:

A sunscreen of at least Factor 30 (UVB) with a 5 star rating (UVA) is recommended.
Sunscreen should be reapplied frequently to ensure adequate protection.
The eyes and scalp also need protection with UV filtering sunglasses.
Wear a wide brimmed hat.

This weekend may well be a hot Bank Holiday, so always take safe sunbathing seriously and remember that sunbeds are not a better or safe alternative. Enjoy the sunshine by all means, but just a little at a time!

More helpful information on skin cancer and can be found on the Cancer Research website along with details on other types of this cancer.

by Dr Hilary Jones