Protecting yourself from skin cancer: your questions answered

protecting from skin cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, and melanoma is its most serious form. Understanding how to detect and protect yourself from this disease is crucial.

As May has marked Melanoma Awareness Month, here we look at some of the most common questions about melanoma, its symptoms, and how you can best protect your skin.

What is melanoma and what are the symptoms of skin cancer?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in cells known as melanocytes, which are responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that gives your skin its colour. There are various types of melanomas, including superficial spreading melanoma, nodular melanoma, lentigo maligna melanoma, and acral lentiginous melanoma – each with unique characteristics and patterns of growth.

The symptoms of melanoma can vary but generally include:

  • New or unusual growths
  • A change in an existing mole

Signs to watch out for include asymmetry, where one half of the mole does not match the other, and irregular borders or changes in colour. It’s also important to watch for a diameter larger than a pencil eraser, and changes in size or shape of the mole.

These symptoms can be remembered by the acronym ABCDE (Asymmetry, Border, Colour, Diameter, Evolving).

How can I protect myself from UVA and UVB rays?

Protecting your skin from the sun’s rays is the most effective way to prevent skin cancer. First, seek shade during peak hours (typically 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are at their strongest).

You’ll also want to wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, trousers, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection. Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all exposed skin and reapply it every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating.

In heat waves or on intensely hot days, when temperatures reach above 32 degrees Celsius and are accompanied by high humidity, it is recommended to use mineral sunscreens. Also, keep your sunscreen bottles in a cool, shaded place to ensure the ingredients do not degrade and become ineffective.

How often should I check my moles?

It’s recommended to examine your skin once a month for any signs of change. Use a mirror to check hard-to-see areas and familiarise yourself with the pattern of moles, freckles, and other marks on your body.

Keeping track of changes can help you identify any new or evolving lesions early. Seeing a dermatologist for a professional skin examination annually, or more often if you’re at high risk for skin cancer, is also advisable.

How is skin cancer treated?

The treatment for skin cancer varies depending on the type and severity of the disease. For precancerous skin lesions, options include prescription creams and cryotherapy, which involves freezing the lesions with liquid nitrogen. Suspected cancerous lesions are usually excised under local anaesthesia to remove them entirely and examine them for signs of cancer.

In some cases, surgical removal of the lesion under local anaesthetic may be required. Early detection significantly increases the effectiveness of treatment, leading to better outcomes.

If you have noticed changes in your skin that are concerning, schedule an appointment with Dr Juliet Williams. Taking proactive steps can be your best defence against skin cancer. Book an appointment today by calling 01483 555907.