Sun Awareness fact sheet
200 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every day in the UK, and melanoma is rising faster than any other type of deadly cancer. In as many as 4 out of 5 cases, skin cancer is a preventable disease. Taking care in the sun will help to protect you.
Protect your skin from the sun
Taking care in the sun can protect you against skin cancer - find out how.
There are three types of skin cancer: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma. Information about each type is contained within this section.
Know your skin type!
Not everyone’s skin offers the same level of protection in the sun. That’s why you need to know your ‘skin type’. The following information has been put together by the British Skin Foundation and the British Association of Dermatologists.
Your skin type cannot be changed and does not vary according to how tanned you are – it is determined by your genes. It affects how your skin will react in the sun and how likely you are to develop skin cancer, so it’s really helpful you get to know it using our guide.
Type I - pale skin, burns very easily and rarely tans, generally have light coloured hair or red hair and freckles
Type II - usually burn but may gradually tan, likely to have light hair, and blue or brown eyes, some may have dark hair but still have fair skin
Type III - burns with long exposure to the sun but generally tans quite easily, usually have a light olive skin with dark hair and brown or green eyes.
Type IV - burns with very lengthy exposures but always tan easily as well, usually have brown eyes and dark hair
Type V - have a naturally brown skin, with brown eyes and dark hair, burn only with excessive exposure to the sun and their skin further darkens easily
Type VI - have black skin with dark brown eyes and black hair, burn only with extreme exposure to the sun and their skin further darkens very easily
Types I and II are at the most risk of developing skin cancer. People of skin types V and VI do not generally develop sun-induced skin cancer but may develop skin ageing with skin wrinkling.
Take care in the sun:
• seek shade between 11am and 3pm
• Wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 that also provides UVA protection
• Reapply sunscreen frequently
• Cover up with clothing and don’t forget to wear a hat that protects your face, neck and ears
• Don’t sunbathe or use sunbeds
• Never let your skin burn, whatever your skin type
The science of skin colour
Black skin offers better sun protection because it produces more ‘melanin’ - the skin’s ultraviolet (UV) absorbing pigment produced by its special tanning cells in response to UV exposure, as a protective response.
It is the amount of melanin produced naturally in the skin that creates the varying depths of skin colour in people of different ethnic backgrounds, and the darker the original colour, the more easily the skin then increases its tan following sun exposure.
If you concerned about any changes to your skin, see your doctor.
Types of skin cancers
Cutaneous malignant melanoma
Cutaneous malignant melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells of the skin. If it is treated early, the outlook is usually good. It is not contagious. Melanomas can come up in or near to a mole, but can also appear on skin that looks quite normal. They develop when the skin pigment cells (melanocytes) become cancerous and multiply in an uncontrolled way. They can then invade the skin around them and may also spread to other areas such as the lymph nodes, liver and lungs.
What causes melanoma?
Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light in sunlight especially during the first 20 years of life can increase the risk. Melanoma's are often linked to white-skinned people living in sunny countries. The use of artificial sources of ultraviolet light, such as sun beds, also raises the risk.
• Some people are more likely to get a melanoma than others: People who burn easily in the sun are particularly at risk.
• Melanoma occurs most often in fair-skinned people who tan poorly.
• Past episodes of severe sunburn, often with blisters, and particularly in childhood, increase the risk of developing a melanoma.
• However, not all melanomas are due to sun exposure, and some appear in areas that are normally kept covered.
• People with many (more than 50) ordinary moles, or with a very large dark hairy birthmark, have a higher than average chance of getting a melanoma.
• The risk is raised if another family member has had a melanoma.
What are the symptoms of melanoma?
• Melanomas may not cause any symptoms at all, but tingling or itching may occur at an early stage.
• Some melanomas start as minor changes in the size, shape or colour of an existing mole.
• Others begin as a dark area that can look like a new mole.
• Melanomas can appear on any part of the skin but they are most common in men on the body and in women on the legs.
What does a melanoma look like?
All skin cancers do not look the same, and there are several different types. The ABCD-Easy way to check your moles.
Asymmetry – the two halves of the area differ in their shape
Border – the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches
Colour – this may be uneven. Different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen.
Diameter - most melanomas are at least 6 mm. in diameter. Report any change in size or diameter to your doctor
Expert - if in doubt - check it out! If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a Consultant Dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS.
If in doubt, check it out!
• Check your skin for changes once a month. A friend or family member can help you with this.
• Monitor your moles.
If you find any worrying changes, contact your doctor immediately.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the non-melanoma skin cancers. It is the second most common type of skin cancer in the UK.
What causes a squamous cell carcinoma?
The most common cause is too much exposure to ultra-violet light from the sun or from sun beds. This causes certain cells (keratinocytes) in one of the layers of the skin (the epidermis) to grow out of control into a tumour.
Squamous cell carcinomas can occur on any part of your body, but are most common on areas that are exposed to the sun, such as your head and neck (including the lips and ears) and the backs of your hands. Squamous cell carcinomas can also crop up where the skin has been damaged by X-rays, and also on old scars, ulcers, burns and persistent chronic wounds. Squamous cell carcinomas are not contagious.
Who is most likely to have a squamous cell carcinoma?
• Older people – even those who tend to avoid the sun - but younger ones who are out in the sun a lot are at risk too.
• Builders, farmers, surfers, sailors and people who often use sun-beds
• Those with a fair skin are more likely to get them than people with a dark skin
• Anyone who has had a lot of ultraviolet light treatment for skin conditions such as psoriasis will also be at increased risk of getting a squamous cell carcinomas.
• Those whose immune system has been suppressed by medication taken after an organ transplant, or by treatment for leukaemia or a lymphoma.
What does a squamous cell carcinoma look like?
A squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as a scaly or crusty area of skin, with a red, inflamed base. Most small squamous cell carcinomas are not painful.
• Treatment will be much easier if your squamous cell carcinoma is detected early. It follows that you should see your doctor if you have any marks on your skin which are
• Changing in appearance in any way
• Never healing completely
Basal Cell Carcinoma
A basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer - the most common one in the UK. It is sometimes also called a ‘rodent ulcer’. What causes it?
The commonest cause is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or from sun beds. Basal cell carcinomas can occur anywhere on your body, but are most common on areas that are exposed to the sun, such as your face, head, neck and ears. It is also possible for a basal cell carcinoma to develop where burns, scars or ulcers have damaged the skin. Basal cell carcinomas are not contagious.
Who is most likely to have a basal cell carcinoma?
Basal cell carcinomas mainly affect fair skinned adults and are more common in men than women. Those with the highest risk of developing a basal cell carcinoma are:
• People with freckles or with pale skin and blond or red hair.
• Those who have had a lot of exposure to the sun, such as people with outdoor hobbies, outdoor workers, and people who have lived in sunny climates.
• People who use sun beds.
• People who have previously had a basal cell carcinoma.
What are basal cell carcinomas like?
Most basal cell carcinomas are painless. People often first become aware of them as a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some basal cell carcinomas are very superficial and look like a scaly red flat mark: others show a white pearly rim surrounding a central crater. If left for years, the latter type can “gnaw away” at the skin, eventually causing an ulcer – hence the name “rodent ulcer”. Other basal cell carcinomas are quite lumpy, with one or more shiny nodules crossed by small but easily seen blood vessels.
Can basal cell carcinomas be cured?
Yes, basal cell carcinomas can be cured in almost every case, although treatment becomes complicated if they have been neglected for a very long time, or if they are in an awkward place - such as near the eye, nose or ear. Seldom if ever do they spread to other parts of the body.
What can I do?
Treatment will be much easier if your basal cell carcinoma is detected early.
You must see your doctor if you have any marks or scabs on your skin which are:
Growing; bleeding; changing appearance in any way; never completely healing properly.
You can also take some simple precautions to help prevent a basal cell carcinoma appearing: Be sun savvy!
The information included in this fact sheet has been taken from the website of The British Skin Foundation http://www.britishskinfoundation.org.uk. They include the following advice:
‘While every effort has been made to ensure that the information given in this leaflet is accurate, not every treatment will be suitable or effective for every person. Your own doctor will be able to advise you in greater detail.’
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