Skin cancer - signs, symptoms and sun safety advice

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK and, thanks to our love of tanning, the number of cases is increasing. Caused by too much ultraviolet radiation, found in sunlight and sunbeds, this type of cancer is often preventable.

Skin cancer signs and symptoms
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Types of skin cancer

There are two main types of skin cancer - malignant melanoma and non-melanoma. The most serious of these is the malignant melanoma type - this usually develops in the outer layer of skin and most deaths from skin cancer are from this type. According to Cancer Research UK, it is the second most common cancer amongst 15 to 34 year olds but the risk also increases with age. The rate of this kind of skin cancer is rising faster than any other in this country.

Non-melanoma is more common and also easier to treat. Often found in areas that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck and hands, there are two types of non-melanoma cancer. Basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer - both are more common in older people.

Signs and symptoms
In order to properly check for the signs of skin cancer, it is important to get to know your skin. We all have moles or dark patches that may be raised or flat and the majority are harmless. It is when these change in size, shape or colour in a relatively short period of time that you may want to seek advice.

Cancer Research advises using the ABCD rule to remind you of possible symptoms of a malignant melanoma:

- the two halves of the mole do not look the same.
Border - the edges are irregular, blurred or jagged.
Colour - an uneven colour, with more than one shade.
Diameter - the mole is wider than 6mm in diameter.

The less serious non-melanoma has its own set of symptoms. Basal cell cancer often begins as a small round or flattened lump that is red or pale in colour. It can also appear as an eczema-like patch on the skin. Squamous cell cancer, which is the more serious of the two as it can spread, usually appears as red scaly spot, lumps or sores that may bleed easily.

If you notice any of these symptoms developing over the course of a few weeks or months (in adulthood) go to your GP immediately and get checked out.

Sun safety
Few of us could honestly say we are not aware of the risks when it comes to skin cancer. Though sunlight is vital as it provides us with vitamin D, getting burnt or spending too much time on the sunbed can have dire consequences. According to Cancer Research, getting badly sunburned once every two years can triple the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer so taking care in the sun is essential.

Be sure to spend some time in the shade if you are outside in hot weather for long periods - covering up (and that includes sunglasses) can help to reduce your risk and sunscreen with a minimum protection factor of 15 should be applied regularly.

Sunbeds can be particularly dangerous, especially for young people. In fact, Cancer Research advises that using a sunbed for the first time before the age of 35 increases your risk of developing melanoma by 75 per cent. These short but intense periods of UV exposure are no safer than sunbathing in natural light.

And remember, young children, those with fair skin that burns easily, red or fair hair, or lots of moles and freckles, should take extra care in the sun.

Be safe, not sorry.