What is melanoma?

During scorching heat waves, it's easy to prioritise making the most of the sun over considering the risks of skin cancer, especially when living in the UK when our sunny days are never guaranteed. However, protecting your skin is crucial not only during these intense heat waves but throughout the whole of the summer season. Melanoma skin cancer, which is the 5th most common cancer in the UK, should be taken seriously, but the good news is that 86% of cases are preventable. So let's explore how you can shield your skin from harm and when it's time to consult your GP.

What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer which occurs when the pigment-producing cells of the skin (melanocytes) start to grow and divide more rapidly than usual. Melanoma is almost always curable if identified and treated early.

However if left untreated, melanoma can invade the deeper layers of your skin, which contains blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. This allows it to spread to other parts of the body making it difficult to treat and sometimes fatal. The number of melanoma diagnoses in the UK has increased recently to over 15,000 each year. It is one of the most common cancers in people aged 15-34 years but 50% of people diagnosed are over 65.

Preventing Melanoma:

  1. Stay out of the sun

    When possible you should aim to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (between 11 am-3 pm). This is when the sun’s UV rays are the harshest and can cause the most damage. By all means enjoy being outdoors during this time, just try and find a nice shady spot.

  2. Cover up

    Similarly to staying out of the sun, if that isn’t possible then you can opt to wear lightweight clothing to cover your arms and legs. Also, wear a hat to protect your head, face, ears and neck.

  3. Be familiar with your skin

    It’s important to recognise if something on your body has changed so you know when to get checked by a GP. Try and familiarise yourself with your skin, where your moles are, any changes in pigmentation or anything else that might change. If you know what your “normal” is then it will be much easier to notice anything abnormal.

  4. Avoid sunbeds

    Sun beds, sun lamps and tanning beds emit the same type of harmful radiation as the sun. Regular use of these methods of tanning can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Many sunbeds give out higher levels of UV rays than the hot midday sun!

  5. Use a high-factor suncream

    If you know you’re going to be spending time in the sun then it’s important to protect your skin using sun cream. Make sure you use a sun cream no lower than SPF 15 and make sure to reapply it regularly throughout the day. Do the best you can to avoid getting burnt, if you notice your skin turning red then move indoors, into the shade or cover up with clothing.

Recognising the signs of melanoma

The first signs of melanoma may involve a skin change or a new mole. Alternatively, melanoma can develop from a pre-existing mole or freckle. It is important to examine your skin monthly, from head-to-toe, to identify any potential skin cancers early. Take notice of new moles or growths, or any significant changes to existing moles or skin lesions. Use the ABCDE guide to assess your moles and, if you have more than one abnormal feature, arrange to see your GP as soon as possible.

If you've noticed a suspicious-looking mole (whether old or new, big or small), it's always best to get it checked out. At London Doctors Clinic our GPs can look at any moles you are worried about and refer you to a specialist if necessary. Booking with us is quick and simple, so if you have any worries whatsoever, we can help. Book your private GP appointment at any of our London locations.