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Sun Damage and Skin Cancer

  • Private GP Services
  • Medically Reviewed By: Dr Farzad Entikabi MB BS MSc MRCS(Eng) MRCGP DFSRH
Woman wearing sunscreen to protect against, Sun Damage, Skin Cancer and UV Radiation

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is a form of cancer that affects the cells in the skin. It is commonly caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, tanning beds, and effects of ageing.

There are 2 types skin cancer

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and usually appears as a small, red bump or nodule on areas of the body that have been exposed to UV radiation over time.

Squamous cell carcinoma may look like scaly patches or bumps, they may be irregular in shape or ulcerate, and may appear anywhere on the body that are usually exposed to sunlight.

Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanomas are considered more dangerous than other forms of skin cancer because they can spread quickly (metastasis).
Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, not only in areas that get a lot of sun. The first sign of a melanoma is usually an unusual looking freckle or mole, that may also itch or bleed.

Sun Damage

Sun damage is the cause of most skin cancers. Too much exposure to the sun’s UV radiation damages your cells. The DNA within those cells can be targeted, causing irregularities in their replication patterns, and ultimately interrupting normal cell function. This can lead to abnormal cellular division that clumps together forming tumors, that may have cancerous properties.

Protecting Yourself from UV Radiation

To stay as safe as possible in the sun it is essential that you take steps towards preventing such dangers from occurring by protecting yourselves from overexposure.

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater 30 minutes before going out in the sun and every few hours after. Remember to reapply sooner if you get wet or sweat significantly.
  • Wear sunglasses with total UV protection.
  • Choose cosmetic products and moisturisers that offer UV protection.
  • Limit your direct sun exposure during the hours of 10 am and 4 pm, when UV radiation is at its peak.
  • Check your skin regularly. Be mindful of existing skin growths and check for any changes or new growths, contact a medical professional as soon as you notice any abnormal skin changes – such as new moles, changes to existing moles or skin lesions and sores.
woman wearing sunscreen to protect against sun damage, skin cancer and UV radiation

Checking for Signs of Skin Cancer

This Cancer Awareness month, challenge yourself to be more proactive with your skin health and encourage your friends and family too!

Regular self-skin checks, looking for any abnormal changes, are key in the fight against skin cancer. Early detection could make all the difference.

You should contact a medical professional for further investigation if you experience and of these common symptoms of skin cancer.

  • Moles & Freckles – Any changes to existing moles and freckles or new ones appearing. See How To Check your Moles – ABCDE Rule for more information.
  • Sores – If you have a sore that hasn’t healed within 4 weeks or looks unusual and hurts or itches. It may look see through, shiny and pink, pearly white or red. It may also feel sore, rough and have raised edges.
  • Ulcers – If you have an ulcer that has not healed after 4 weeks, with no reasonable explanation.
  • A Lump – Any new lumps on your skin whether small or slowly growing. It may be shiny and pink or red in colour.
  • Red Patches – If you experience itchy, red patches on your skin that aren’t associated with an existing condition.
checking moles for sun damage and skin cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma skin cancer

Those Most at Risk

Exposure to UV radiation can be dangerous for everyone, but those most at risk include those with.

  • Fair skin
  • Moles or Freckled skin
  • A history of sunburn or skin that burns easily.
  • Light coloured eyes
  • Blonde or red hair
  • Excess sun exposure – people who work outside or use tanning beds.

Taking proactive measures now can make a real difference in the fight against skin cancer.

By conducting regular self-exams, using sunscreen with an SPF 30+ and limiting exposure to UV radiation, you may be able to significantly reduce the risk factors associated skin cancer.

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