Skin Cancer – Malignant Melanoma
Are You Dying To Get A Tan?
With the summer months now in full flow, I would like to highlight the dangers of the sun on our skins. Since the mid 30s, skin cancer has increased 20 fold, and now each year in the UK about 6,000 people are diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma. If caught early there is a 90% chance of recovery, but if undetected for 6 months, this type of cancer can be fatal as melanomas can metastasise (i.e. spread to other parts of the body), very quickly. Many cases of malignant melanoma can be prevented if we were more careful when exposing our skin to the sun, especially with an increase in people taking holidays in sunnier parts of the world, and even at home, as during the last few weeks, we do have hot spells with temperatures reaching as high as 30oC/86oF in some areas.
The ultraviolet light in the sun is composed of 2 types of wavelengths of light, Ultraviolet type A (UVA) and Ultraviolet type B (UVB). An excess of UVA will depress the immune system, ageing is associated with this type of ultraviolet light, rather than cancer. UVB is the type of ultraviolet light that causes sunburn subsequently damaging skin cells and initiating cancer. However, it is still important that you are not over exposed to either type of ultraviolet light, as if the immune system is depressed from UVA, this will then weaken the immune response that is essential for dealing with damaged cells from UVB.
Risk Factors for Malignant Melanoma Include: –
Familial Dysplastic Naevus Syndrome: Is a condition that is passed on through families with the highest risk factor being an immediate family member such as father, mother, brother or sister, who have abnormal moles i.e. that are large in number and they are bigger than 5mm across, with an irregular colour and shape, these will have a tendency towards malignancy. The highest known risk factor for malignant melanoma would be for an immediate family member to have malignant melanoma and for you also to have abnormal looking moles.
Family History of Melanoma: This is probably because people tend to share the same sort of colouring and skin type, as their close relatives, even if they are darker in colour.
Lots of Moles: There is an increased risk of those who have more than 60 moles, together with being fair skinned. Always check any moles (even if you do not have more than 60) that change in shape, size, colour, texture, sensation or that they bleed, as it is very important that if any of the above are relevant to you that you ask your doctor to check your moles.
Skin Colour & Freckles: Those who have fair skin, and particularly those with fair or red hair, and at even higher risk are those who are fair and have a tendency to freckle. Even those with darker skins who have natural protection should still be careful of the sun, as they can still be at risk.
Sunburn: Most at risk are those who are the fairest of all, who go red and then peel even before getting a tan. Those with malignant melanoma are twice as likely to have been badly sunburn at least once in their lives, and are three times more likely to have been badly sunburned several times, compared to those without the disease.
Sun Beds: Sun beds have become very popular during the last few years with many adverts even in gyms, professing their virtues, however, sun beds have not been around for enough years to prove without doubt that they are safe. UVA, the type of ultraviolet light used in sun beds does not burn, but it does not mean they are safe. Research has proven that UVA used in sun beds can cause all types of skin cancer, for example, those who use sun beds occasionally are at three times more risk of developing melanoma of the eye, compared to those who never use sun beds. Gallagher, R.P., Spinelli, J.J. and T.K. Lee (2005), Beane Freeman et al. (2005), Swerdlow et al. (1988), (just to mention a few) have conducted studies on the risks of sun beds and malignant melanoma.
-Keep out of the sun when it is at its strongest.
-The Australians say “SLIP SLAP SLOP”
-SLIP on a shirt
-SLAP on a hat
-SLOP on some sun cream
-Be careful of the type of sun cream that you use, remember, it is absorbed into the skin and many contain ingredients that look as though they are part of a witches brew! These can be as harmful as the sun itself, and give an often-overburdened liver extra work in order to detoxify these ingredients. Choose wherever possible, Organic
-Sun creams and After Sun lotion for children and adults, as they do not contain harmful compounds.
-A healthy diet is very important to help prepare and protect you from the harmful effects of the sun.
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Gallagher, R.P., Spinelli, J.J. and T.K. Lee (2005) ‘Tanning beds, sunlamps and risk of cutaneous malignant melanoma’. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Mar;14(3):562-6
Beane Freeman, L.E., L.K. Dennis, C.F. Lynch et al. (2005) ‘Test-retest of self-reported exposure to artificial tanning devices, self tanning creams, and sun sensitivity showed consistency’ Clinical Epidemiol. Apr;58(4):430-2
Swerdlow, A.J., J.S. English, R.M. MacKie, et al. (1998) ‘Fluorescent lights, ultraviolet lamps, and risk of cutaneous melanoma’, BMJ Sep 10;297(6649):1172
BCNH Year 3 – Diploma Course (2004-2005) Module 4 – Part 1 Cancer
Savona, N., Holford, P. (2001) Solve Your Skin Problems. London, U.K.: Paitkus