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How To Be Your Own Skin Detective

Hurray for May! A month of bank holidays, wisteria, cherry blossom and (dare I tempt fate?) sunshine. No more hiding in boots and opaque tights; our legs will once again be on public view.

We love the sunshine because it boosts our levels of the happy hormone, serotonin; but we need to be mindful about the dangers of sun exposure, especially for fairer skin types. Ultraviolet (UV) light radiation damages DNA, leading to altered behaviour of skin cells. This accelerates ageing of the skin (photoaging) but can also lead to to cancerous changes.


Skin cancer is the commonest of all human malignancies. The risk increases with advancing years and higher cumulative UV exposure. The UK’s large elderly Caucasian population explains the reason for higher rates here than those in countries with different racial and age demographics.


In 2019, a record high of 224,000 new cases were recorded, a 26% increase over the preceding six years and the rise in incidence is expected to continue. Dr Tanya Bleiker, President of the British Association of Dermatologists predicts that one in five people will develop skin cancer. Frightening stuff.


But don’t panic. The vast majority of skin cancers are not harmful to general health.


Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) does not spread to other parts of the body but will enlarge over months and years. It is by far the most common skin cancer that I treat in my practice, as they are common on the face, including the eyelids.


Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is much less common, but tends to be more aggressive, and may spread in the surrounding area or local lymph nodes.


Melanoma represents the minority, with approximately 16,000 cases diagnosed in the UK per annum. It’s the most feared type of skin cancer, however due to its ability to metastasise to other organs and potentially kill its host.

The good news is that practicing sun safety can protect you and your family from skin cancer. Wearing minimum SPF 30 every day (whatever the weather) on your face, neck and décolletage (if you’re flashing a bit of cleavage) will pay dividends in keeping your skin looking youthful and cancer free.


Although the majority of skin cancers occur in the elderly, I have treated many 30-somethings, especially if they have been sunbed users or spend a lot of time outdoors. Skin cancers are painless, so regularly checking for new lesions or changing pre-existing ones will allow early treatment and a cure in the vast majority of cases.


Self-examination:


Why not practice a bit of self-love each day by smoothing on your favourite body lotion after you shower, whilst mindfully inspecting your skin for anything new or suspicious? It will certainly help bring those hibernating legs back to life!


What to look for:


  • A new lump or patch persisting for more than a few weeks and growing slowly.

  • A new pigmented (dark) skin lesion or growth, darkening/irregular pigmentation or elevation of an existing mole.

  • Bleeding, itching or ulceration


If you are concerned, you should seek advice from your GP or a clinic offering skin cancer treatment. This usually involves surgical removal under local anaesthetic. The tissue removed is examined by a pathologist to confirm the diagnosis and that clearance has been achieved.

 

To find out more or to make an appointment, email hello@drjuliasen, phone 07939 286850.

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