Summertime has (supposedly) arrived and whether staying at home or travelling to sunnier climates it is important to think of sun safety. Our latitude in Ireland means that the UV index (risk of sunburn) can be high even on overcast days. The months of April to September are the time of greatest risk. Unfortunately rates of skin cancer continue to increase year on year making it the most common form of cancer in Ireland.
Skin cancer and premature ageing of the skin are caused by the harmful effects of the sun’s UVA and UVB rays on the skin. Unsightly benign and precancerous lesions as well as common skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma come in many different forms and are best diagnosed by inspection of the skin by a trained medical professional. A biopsy may be needed for formal diagnosis.
The skin damage (sunburn or tanning) that creates these cancers is often done at a young age with a significant lag time of at least 10-15 years before a cancer forms. The common position of these skin cancers gives a clue to their origin. Most often they appear on the tops of ears and noses, foreheads, shoulders and torso in men and chest and legs in women as these are the most likely areas to have repeated sun exposure.
So what can you do to protect yourself?
The Australians, used to dealing with extreme sun, have long followed the Slip, Slop, Slap regime..!
Slip on a T Shirt (especially important to keep children in loose cover up clothing)
Slop on the sun cream (at least factor 30 for Irish skin)
Slap on a hat (and sunglasses for eye protection)
Children need particular care and learn best when adults lead by example. Babies under 6 months should be kept in the shade as much as possible with skin protected by clothing and sun cream applied to exposed skin areas.
Keep well hydrated in the heat and avoid sun-beds which are particularly dangerous (and illegal) for children and have been proven to be linked to malignant melanoma the most dangerous form of skin cancer. If your skin does burn moisturisers and aloe vera may provide some welcome relief to the discomfort but cannot unfortunately prevent long term skin damage.
If you have noticed any change in a mole or skin lesion that you are concerned about please do not hesitate to attend your doctor for review. In particular a mole which has a sudden change in size, colour, and shape, bleeding or itching can be a warning sign. A significant number of melanomas will commence on skin where there has been no pre-existing mole. For lots of useful tips visit www.cancer.ie/sunsmart/
It is important to remember that Vitamin D, an essential nutrient is produced in our skin by sunlight and unfortunately our need for sun safety may affect its production.