May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Around 1.49 billion people worldwide suffer or have suffered from a skin disease at some point in their lives, which makes it one of the most prevalent medical issues in the world today. Since 1996, the British Skin Foundation has supported and funded 400 research projects, which encompass all skin diseases, from treating eczema to therapies for malignant melanoma. It also aims to educate and inform about early detection and symptoms of skin diseases, reduce stigma, and spread awareness and understanding. Various types of skin cancer are a focus of the British Skin Foundation’s funding and research.
If someone has a blemish on their skin – a mole, a lump or something else – that worries them, what course of action would you recommend?
If you are concerned about any changes to a mole or patch of skin, or a new mark on adult skin, it is important to get in touch with your GP. If your GP is concerned, they can refer you to a skin cancer specialist who will be able to give a diagnosis.
What are the risk factors for skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and the rates are continuously rising year on year. At least 100,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and the disease kills over 2,500 people each year in the UK – that’s seven people every day. Some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others. Your skin colour or type is the main factor in developing skin cancer, and people who burn easily in the sun are at an increased risk. Other risk factors include getting sunburnt, using sunbeds, having lots of moles and spending a lot of time outdoors with high overall exposure to the sun. The risk of skin cancer is also raised if another family member has had it, and people who have previously had one melanoma are at increased risk of getting another. People with damaged immune systems also have an increased risk.
“Some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others.”
What are your recommendations for the prevention of skin cancer?
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun can cause damage to the skin and lead to skin cancer. UV exposure is actually the main preventable cause of skin cancer. Experiencing sunburn increases the risk of developing skin cancer so it’s very important to protect yourself from the sun. In order to stay safe you should always wear clothing and a hat, covering as much skin as possible. Sunglasses that filter out the UV are also essential to protect from damage to the eyes. Generously apply sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) 30 or more to all areas of skin exposed to the sun. No sunscreen provides absolute protection so it should be worn in conjunction with the other lines of defence, and not alone. Keeping cool in the shade is a good way of protecting yourself from the sun. Find shade whenever possible but especially between 11 am and 3 pm when the sun is at its strongest.
“UV exposure is the main preventable cause of skin cancer.”
What impact does skin cancer or any skin disease have on the mental health of patients?
In a recent survey, the British Skin Foundation found that four in five people believe their appearance is important to their general wellbeing and, on top of that, more than half of those with a skin disease feel judged by others. We believe that skin and hair are intrinsic to people’s identity and shouldn’t be underestimated. It is clear from our research that skin and appearance are hugely important factors in mental health and overall happiness. At the British Skin Foundation, we are working to find cures and treatments for all types of skin disease, including skin cancer, and that is why we are always in need of support.
“Skin and hair are intrinsic to people’s identity and shouldn’t be underestimated.”
Are there any apps you would recommend to help check the condition of your skin?
Miiskin is a very helpful mole checking app that helps people keep track of their skin and moles over time. It is important to note that the app does not help you diagnose based on photos but it is a tool to document changes to your skin. The pictures are helpful to track changes in your skin to then prompt you to seek help from your doctor.
Many thanks for your time and for the interview.