A first-hand perspective

“In my job as a skin cancer specialist, I have had to give the diagnosis to many hundreds of people during my career to date. The thing that they have in common is that they could be your friend, your boss or your child. Every day, seven people die from skin cancer. It is one of the fastest rising malignancies to affect the UK population, especially so amongst the 18 to 35 age group. One of the hardest parts of my job is telling people who are younger than me, it is heart-breaking”

“To the right are some sobering facts about skin cancer, which are a stark reminder of the need for more research. Below is a short guide to checking your skin, as early detection is vital, and some tips for staying safe in the sun”

“If you are supporting this campaign then there's a good chance you will have had your life touched by skin cancer, either directly or through a loved one. If so, you may well have seen first-hand the tragic impact it can make.”

Dr Bav Shergill Dr Bav Shergill
Consultant Dermatologist and Dermatological Surgeon at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust

There are 3 main types of skin cancer

Malignant Melanoma:

Malignant melanoma is the least common but more serious form of skin cancer, which can be fatal if not caught and removed early. It usually appears in or near to a mole, and can spread to other areas such as the lymph nodes, liver and lungs. It is disproportionately high amongst young people and people most at risk include those with pale skin who burn easily, those who have suffered past episodes of sunburn, people with many ordinary or unusual moles, those with a family history of melanoma and those who have previously had skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma:

BCC is a non-melanoma skin cancer and it the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for over 80% of all skin cancer cases in the UK. The commonest cause is too much exposure to UV light from the sun or from sunbeds. BCC can occur anywhere on your body, but is most common on areas that are often exposed to the sun. They can vary greatly in their appearance, but people often first become aware of them as a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma:

SCC is also a non-melanoma skin cancer and the second most common type of skin cancer in the UK. They are also caused by too much exposure to UV light, and so often appear on exposed areas of the skin such as the head, neck and hands. They can vary greatly in their appearance, but usually appear as a scaly or crusty area of skin or lump, with a red, inflamed base. If an SCC is left untreated for too long, there is a small risk that it may spread to other parts of the body, and this can be serious.

A guide to checking your skin

Most skin cancers can be cured if detected early. The best way to detect skin cancer is to check your skin regularly, about once a month. You should examine the skin all over your body, from top to toe. Ask a friend or member of your family to look at areas you can't see such as your scalp, ears and back. Look out for moles or patches of skin that are growing, changing shape, developing new colours, inflamed, bleeding, crusting, red around the edges, particularly itchy, or behaving unusually.

Remember, if in doubt, get it checked out straight away. We recommend that you tell your doctor about any changes to a mole or patch of skin. If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a Consultant Dermatologist - an expert in diagnosing skin cancer. Your doctor can refer you for free through the NHS.

Top sun safety tips

  • Protect your skin with clothing, and don't forget to wear a hat that protects your face, neck and ears
  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm when it's sunny
  • When choosing a sunscreen look for a high protection SPF (SPF 30 or more) to protect against UVB, and the UVA circle logo and/or 4 or 5 UVA stars to protect against UVA
  • Apply plenty of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun, and reapply every two hours and straight after swimming and towel-drying
  • Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight