Thursday, June 12, 2008

Beware sun spots

By Claire Borley

WE Brits are obsessed with weather, largely thanks to summer after summer of torrential rain when we were hoping for sun.

But this obsession could have a deadly downside - we don't take the sun seriously.

At the merest hint of a ray we peel off, exposing our unprepared dermis to the elements.

Yet skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, affecting 60,000 people in England and Wales every year and numbers are on the increase.

Skin cancer is caused by overexposure to the sun's harmful UV rays, and unbelievably more people die here from the condition than in Australia, where using sunscreen and staying in the shade is a matter or course.

Despite is fashion status a suntan isn't healthy and is in fact a sign of skin damage.


The results of sunbathing are skin that ages more quickly and an increased risk of cancer.

Regular health checks can be vital in spotting the signs for a variety of conditions and one area in particular we neglect more than any other is moles.

Changes to the shape and size of moles can be an indication of skin cancer, but changes may not always be visible to the eye.

Specialist screening company Screen4Life's has teamed up with Tesco to pilot on the spot mole screening in 28 of its in store pharmacies nationwide.

Both the Mayflower store and the Pitsea store in Basildon are offering the service which starts at £25 for up to three moles.

I went along to the Pitsea store to try out the new service.

Katie Butler is one of the company's trained nurse specialists who carry out the screening using its unique skin imaging technology which enables the medical team to see what is going on under the surface of the skin up to a depth of 2mm and detect the early signs of cancer.

Katie says: "The aim is to identify moles which show early signs of skin cancer by analysing characteristics beneath the surface of the mole - signs which may not be visible to the naked eye. We use patented technology developed at Cambridge University and clinically tested at Addenbrooke's."

An Australian herself, Katie is often amazed by the relaxed attitude us Brits have to sun burn.

She says: "Back home we have a saying - not prevention is better than cure but education is better than cure. From an early age we are taught how important it is to look after your skin and to respect the sun."

The hand held screening tool known as the SIA Scope analyses five things to assess whether a mole is safe or has the potential to develop into something untoward.

Its external view shows its size while at the same time its melanin count, collagen levels, dermal melanin and blood concentration are also recorded and measured against accepted levels.

Screening is safe, non-invasive and painless and the results are immediate. Screen4Life used the same technology to screen participants on the PGA golf tour recently.

Any concerns are then referred on to a specialist if needed.

Katie says: "There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma , and malignant melanoma.

Malignant melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because the cancer can spread to other organs in the body."

Should the results show the mole has unusual features that require further investigation, a report is sent to the customer's GP who will then obtain a referral to a specialist for assessment and diagnosis.

All patients also receive advice and Cancer Research UK leaflets on how to protect themselves in the sun.

The number of skin cancer cases has risen over the past ten years.

The increase is thought to be due to more people taking holidays in hot climates, and the growing popularity of the 'tanned look'.

The leading cause of skin cancer is always over-exposure to sunlight.

Risk factors for developing skin cancer include: having pale skin that does not tan easily, having red, or blonde, hair, having blue eyes, having a large number of moles, or having a large number of freckles.

Those that work outside or play a lot of outdoor sport can also be more susceptable.

Katie says: "This sort of screening service is seen as a must back home. Our records mean that each customer's report is held confidentially with its own unique reference number and can be recalled the next time they come for screening to ensure any changes are acted upon quickly.

"It is a case of spending a short time with us to ensure your long term health."

Customers can book a screening appointment by calling 0800 988 6653 or at the pharmacy counter in store.

How's is skin cancer prevented? The best way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid spending too much time in the sun.

You don't have to be sunbathing to get burned.

You can get too much sun while walking to the shops or when driving a car with the windows down. And although the sun is strongest in a cloudless sky, you can still get burned under light cloud cover.

The time of day and location are important too. The intensity of UV radiation increases during the middle of the day, between April to September, as you get nearer the equator and at higher altitudes.

How to protect yourself :

Stick to the shade between 11am and 3pm Cover up with clothes, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses

Apply a high-factor sunscreen (minimum SPF15 and three stars) regularly

Drink plenty of water to avoid overheating

Avoid using sun lamps or sunbeds Watch those moles Many moles aren't cancerous, but it's vital to keep an eye on any you have. Watch out for moles that change shape or colour, become bigger, itchy or inflamed, or that weep or bleed. If you notice any changes or are worried, get them checked.

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