What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells that is divided into two main types: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer grows slowly in the upper layers of the skin and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.
The second, and more dangerous, type of skin cancer is melanoma skin cancer. Melanomas can spread to other organs in the body, and in 2020 it was estimated that over 320,000 people worldwide were diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma can spread to other organs in the body. It often spreads to nearby lymph nodes first, before spreading to other vital organs. If this happens, it becomes much harder to treat. That means it is very important to look out for signs of melanoma and catch it at an early stage.
What causes skin cancer?
Over 80% of skin cancers are caused by overexposure to UV radiation. This includes UV rays from the sun, but also from sunbeds and tanning lamps. UV radiation damages DNA in your skin cells, which can accumulate over time and increase the risk of genetic mutations that cause skin cancer. The more often you get burnt, the more damage is done and the higher the risk of skin cancer. It’s also important to know that you don’t necessarily need to get a sunburn for UV rays to damage your cells.
What to do when you get sunburnt?
The best thing to do is to stay out of the sun, cover up when you have to go outside and give your skin time to heal. Drink plenty of water, use cool compresses and pain medication if necessary and see your GP if you think the burn is more severe than can be handled at home. For more advice, please see the NHS website on sunburn.
How to avoid it?
The single best thing you can do for your skin is to never get sunburnt. Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
Using sun lotion with a high SPF, covering up with clothes, staying in the shade and avoiding the midday sun are all sensible things to do. Check out the NHS website for more tips on sun safety.
What about tanning beds?
Tanning beds also send out harmful UV rays and a single session can increase your risk of skin cancer. They are not a safe way of laying down a “base tan” and really should be avoided. The WHO puts them in the same category – carcinogenic to humans – as cigarette smoking.