It’s never too early or too late to reduce your risk of skin cancer. That’s the message from health experts this bank holiday weekend, as the sun is set to make another blistering appearance.
NHS England is urging men who spend a lot of time outdoors to ‘Cover Up, Mate’ and slap on the sun cream when exposed to UV rays.
For the last three years, skin cancer rates have been increasing and are higher than average in the South, particularly in men who work in the agricultural and construction industries, as well as gardeners and sports-players. It is one of the most common forms of cancers, which can be fatal.
The warning comes as new data suggests the danger is not confined to the height of summer, but as early as April and May. With the better weather looking set to strike again this weekend, people will spend more time outside, thereby putting their skin at risk by exposing themselves to the greater UV levels. It’s also a time of year when our skin would naturally have lost resistance to UV over winter.
Research tells us that skin cancer is growing at a faster rate in men than women, and that they are worse at protecting themselves from the danger of the sun. In males in the UK melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer, with around 8,100 new cases in 2015.
It’s clear, a suntan is not a sign of health, it is a sign of skin damage that does not offer protection from harmful UV rays.
Latest Public Health England statistics show that between 2007 and 2015, incidence of malignant melanoma in men rose by 47.3% in the South East and 49.1% in the South West. Deaths by malignant melanoma in this time also rose by 36.9% in the South East and 42.4% in the South West.
NHS England South West Medical Director, Dr Caroline Gamlin, said: “You can’t feel UV radiation, so it’s very easy to get sunburnt in the UK, even when the sun is not particularly bright, if you are outdoors.
“Getting sun burnt just once every two years, can triple your risk of getting skin cancer. We know in particular, people who work in certain outdoor jobs such as farmers and construction workers have a higher risk of this kind of cancer. They often just want to get on with the job but they owe it to themselves and their families to take the risk of skin cancer seriously.
“Our advice is, when you are outdoors, cover up with a hat and long sleeves, and use at least factor 15 sunscreen with good UV-A protection on exposed parts of skin. If you do see a change in your skin such as a mole that gets bigger, darkens or bleeds you should seek medical advice promptly”.
The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. This can occur anywhere on the body, but the most commonly affected areas are the back in men and the legs in women. Melanomas are uncommon in areas which are protected from sun exposure, such as the buttocks and the scalp.
In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour. The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed. Look out for a mole which changes progressively in shape, size and/or colour.
Dr James Mapstone, Deputy Regional Director for Public Health England South, said: “We all like to spend time outdoors, especially on a sunny bank holiday weekend, but statistics show that those living in the South are more likely to develop skin cancer than people living in the rest of England.
“There are many precautions people can take when outside to protect themselves from the sun, make sure you spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, taking care not to burn, cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses, take extra care with children and use at least factor 15 sunscreen.
“Be aware that sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer and sunburn doesn’t just happen on holiday – you can burn in the UK, even when it’s cloudy.”
“By taking these precautions, you can enjoy the nice weather and stay safe.”
An “ABCDE moles checklist” has been developed to help you tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma.
The checklist and other useful information can be found on the NHS Choices website