SKIN CANCER: The Darker Side of the Sun

20We asked Paul Banwell, Consultant Plastic Surgeon to tell us more about the most common cancer in the world, skin cancer.

Q: Paul Tell us a little bit about skin cancer

Skin cancer is now the most common cancer in the world. There are essentially two different types: non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) and melanoma. The latter is less common, but has the highest death rate and it can affect younger people. The lifetime risk of developing skin cancer in Australia is one in three, compared to about one in 40 in the UK. However, whilst the incidence of skin cancer in the UK is significantly less than Australia, our death rates are higher and the number of people who have skin cancer in this country is expected to dramatically increase in the next decade. Raising awareness is therefore vital and early prevention and diagnosis is the key to successful treatment.  Getting a tan is no longer cool and the attitude, “it won’t happen to me” just doesn’t cut anymore.  For instance, in the South-East we have seen an alarming trend in skin cancers affecting the younger age-groups. Changing behaviour and educating parents and their children is therefore vital.

shutterstock_198790067Q: What should we look out for?

Look out for new or existing moles that are darkly pigmented, change in colour and/or size, have an irregular outline and itch, bleed or crust. If you are unsure or concerned that you may have one or more of these symptoms, visit your GP. He or she will examine your skin and would be able to refer you to a Plastic Surgeon or dermatologist with a specialist interest in skin cancer.

Q: How can we reduce the risk of developing skin cancer?

Australia has dramatically decreased rates of skin cancer with the introduction of sun protection programmes, such as the ‘Slip, Slop, Slap& Wrap!’ campaign.  Sun awareness is vital and really does have an effect. Avoid the midday sun (12-3pm), apply liberal amounts of sunscreen with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30+ and wear a hat, loose clothes (tightly woven) and sunglasses. The face and neck are the areas most commonly affected by sun damage, so be sure to apply sunscreen to lips, ears, around eyes, neck and scalp if your hair is thinning.

beachA history of sunburn when young puts people at an increased risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Over fifty per cent of total lifetime sunlight exposure occurs in childhood, so be particularly careful with children.  If they are exposed to the sun, dress them in sun-suits or long-sleeves, hats and sunglasses and apply a liberal amount of high SPF sunscreen regularly.  Schools are becoming increasingly aware of the darker side of the sun too and are introducing stricter rules and regulations in the summer months.

The dangers of sunbeds have also been under the media spotlight recently and there is no doubt they pose a serious health risk.

READ: Sun Protection – Everything you need to know

If you are worried about any of the topics that Paul Banwell has discussed here please do contact your GP.  If  you would like to ask Paul Banwell a question simply email him at today or to ask for an appointment simply fill in our Patient Enquiry Form