It still kills thousands of people a year, but the vast majority of cases are easily preventabl
More than 15,000 new cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed every year in the UK – that’s a whopping 42 a day, making melanoma the fifth most common cancer, accounting for 4% of all new cancer cases. About 2,000 people a year die of skin cancer.
Those are some scary stats, but there’s a silver lining: the vast majority of melanoma cases could have been prevented, which means you have a good shot of keeping yourself safe.
There’s so much you can do to reduce your risk, but far too many people wrongfully believe skin cancer safety is only about your moles. We spoke to Dr Alexis Granite, Consultant Dermatologist at London’s Cadogan Clinic to get her insights into what you need to know to protect yourself:
Myth 1: Your face needs the most protection
You wear facial suncream and always cover your shoulders and back on the beach, but is that enough to protect you from the sun’s harmful rays? Turns out most malignancies occur on other parts of the body. According to Cancer Research UK, nearly 40% of cases of malignant melanoma occur on the legs, almost 20% are found on the trunk, while less than 15% occur on the face and neck. As Dr Granite explains: “It is important during direct exposure to sunlight, such as at the beach, to protect all areas of your body including your trunk, arms and legs.”
Myth 2: All skin cancer starts with a mole
You might have heard about a recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology, which evaluated data from over 3,000 female twins in the UK. It found those with an increased number of moles on the arm (more than 11) were nine times more likely to have over 100 total moles – and people who have 50 or more moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma (as are those with atypical moles).
While this information is useful, it might lead you to believe counting moles is the best way to understanding your skin cancer risk. But in fact, only 20 to 40% melanomas arise from pre-existing moles, so there are other things you need to watch out for, Dr Granite says. “Even people without moles may still develop skin cancer,” she explains. “Non-pigmented growths on the skin that become tender or irritated, bleed or will not heal may also be warning signs and should be checked by a healthcare professional.”
Myth 3: You can’t get skin cancer if you have dark skin
Fair skinned people are at a higher risk of skin cancer, but this doesn’t mean people with olive and darker skin tones don’t need to protect their skin. “Skin cancer occurs across all skin types and in fact can be more difficult to identify in patients with darker skin as the lesions may not have typical warning signs. I advise patients of all skin types to wear sunscreen regularly,” says Dr Granite.
Myth 4: If you’re sun aware now, you’re safe
So you used to spend loads of time frying in the sun (or worse, in sunbeds) but now you always use SPF 30 and lounge under an umbrella. It’s important to know that, because of all that past exposure, you still need to be aware of any skin changes.”The effects of UV exposure are cumulative, so while it’s never too late to stop using sunbeds or exposing the skin to sun without protection, the earlier the better,” Dr Granite says. “Many of the effects of sun exposure will not show up until later in life in the form of wrinkles, uneven pigmentation and reduced skin elasticity.”