The sunnier days has us all jumping out the nearest door to the beach, parks and pubs to bask in the warmth but it comes with a great risk to us all. We talk to Cancer Research UK about skin cancer in our latest health series, Let’s Talk.
What is skin cancer and what causes it?
There are two main types of skin cancer- malignant melanoma (the most serious type) and non-melanoma (the most common type).
Ultraviolet (UV) light (radiation) from the sun and sunbeds can cause skin cancer as it damages the genetic material (the DNA) in your skin cells. If enough DNA damage builds up over time, it can cause cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer.
The risk also increases as we get older and if we have a family history of skin cancer.
Symptoms and when to seek medical help
Most moles remain harmless but occasionally the cells can change abnormally and become melanoma skin cancer. Changes to the shape, size or colour of moles are important and should be checked by your doctor.
But when it comes to skin cancer, moles aren’t the only thing to look out for. Get to know what your skin normally looks like, so you’re more likely to notice anything that’s unusual for you – whether it’s a change to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin, or a mole that doesn’t look like the others, it’s important to show your doctor. The earlier a melanoma is found, the more likely it can be treated successfully.
How to reduce the risk of skin cancer
Enjoying the sun safely reduces the risk of skin cancer. We all need sun for healthy bones but it’s important not to overdo it especially if you get sunburnt easily, have fair skin, hair or eyes, or have lots of freckles or moles.
When the sun is strong:
Spend time in the shade – especially between 11am and 3pm in the UK as this is when the sun’s UV rays are strongest.
Cover up – wear loose clothing, including a shirt or t-shirt, plus a wide-brimmed hat and good quality sunglasses.
Help protect your skin with sunscreen – for parts of the body that you can’t cover with clothes. Use plenty of sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and four or more stars, and reapply regularly.
Skin cancer statistics in the UK
- Melanoma is less common than non-melanoma and is the most serious type of skin cancer.
- There are around 14,600 new cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed each year – that’s 40 cases diagnosed every day.
- Melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer and accounts for 4% of all new cases.
- Around 2,300 people die of melanoma skin cancer each year – that’s around 6 deaths every day. But survival is improving and has doubled in the last 40 years.
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the main potentially avoidable risk factor for skin cancer, linked to an estimated 86% of melanoma cases.
- Skin cancer risk varies with skin type, hair and eye colour, and number of moles.
About Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK is the world’s leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research – our vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.
Our pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives. We been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last forty years. We support research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK’s ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years. We receive no government funding for our life-saving research – every step made towards beating cancer relies on every pound donated.