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Do you practice safe sun? Here’s why you should.

sun awareness week

Did you know that last week was sun awareness week?

It was covered in our news feed here, with some rather alarming results from a poll from the British Association of Dermatologists. In it they revealed – from a poll of 1,018 adults – that most Brits fail to check for signs of skin cancer, that three out of four of us wouldn’t know what to look for when it comes to skin cancer and that 72% had suffered from sunburn in the last 12 months.

So we thought that we should perhaps shed some light on that darkness with a little of our own information about skin cancer, how to avoid it, what to look out for and why it’s a growing problem. To do this we enlisted the help of World First Customer, Marcus, who told us a little about having skin cancer, what it means, how to avoid it and how it has affected his life in the sun.

This is what he told us.

“I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma - skin cancer - when I was in my early twenties. This is the most dangerous form of skin cancer as it can spread if left untreated. That’s when it becomes really dangerous. I was lucky as my cancer was removed completely with a couple of operations under local anaesthetic. I’m now 48 and have had no further malignant melanomas, although I have had a few moles removed to be on the safe side.”

That’s good news. But what does it mean to you? Here’s a quick rundown of everything you need to know:

What types of skin cancer are there?

This is what Public Health England says about the types of skin cancer:

Malignant melanoma: This is the most serious type but is less frequent. It requires early treatment because if the disease progresses too far it can lead to death.

Non-melanoma: This type of cancer can be formed from either squamous or basal cell carcinomas and is the most common type of skin cancer. It is rarely fatal and can be easily treated as long as it is diagnosed early on.

How many people are affected by skin cancer each year?

According to Cancer Research 13,348 people were diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer in 2011. This accounts for 4% of all cancer cases in the UK. Yet only 2,148 people died from it in 2012, which is just 1% of cancer deaths. What this means is that malignant melanoma is treatable- if it’s caught early enough - with 90% of all patients surviving 10 or more years.

What causes skin cancer?

Marcus’ skin cancer was almost certainly caused by sunburn. In fact, most skin cancers are caused by over exposure to ultraviolet radiation either from the sun or from artificial sources.

“I attribute my skin cancer to getting sunburned when I was young. We went of lots of holidays to Spain, Portugal and France when I was a kid and I always got terribly burnt because I didn’t put cream on or cover up properly. But that was the seventies and my family were ignorant of the dangers. Cancer, unfortunately, is the legacy of that careless attitude towards the sun.”

What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

The appearance of moles or dark patches on the skin – and changes to them - can often be early signs of skin cancer skin.  To help you remember what to look for, there is a simple, universal acronym: ABCDE. This stands for:

Asymmetry - the two halves of the area may differ in shape

Border - the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches

Colour - this may be uneven. Different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen

Diameter - most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor

Expert - if in doubt, check it out! If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a Consultant Dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS

Marcus told us “My mole was pale in colour, more like a blemish. But slowly over time I noticed a darker spot had appeared within it. It wasn’t until I saw a photograph of me from a few years before that I realised how much it had changed and how much the dark spot had increased in size. That was the prompt to get checked out.”

Can skin cancer be prevented?

The simple answer is, more than likely, yes. And the simple method is to cover up, avoid going out without protection in hot sun and make sure that you have adequate sun protection, even if it’s cloudy. UV can penetrate cloud cover so it’s important to remember that it is possible to burn even when the sun isn’t shining.

Marcus said “It’s actually pretty easy to avoid getting burned. After my treatment I changed my attitude towards the sun and just did my best to cover up, stay out of the midday sun in hot countries, wear a hat and generally be sensible about going out unprotected. It isn’t that hard. A tan is actually a sign of sun damaged skin so I’m happy to be paler than most. It’s a sign of health!”

Will skin cancer affect your ability to get travel insurance?

Better ask Marcus that one. He said “I was accepted by World First for annual travel insurance with no quibbles after answering a few questions about my follow ups and the dates of the cancer. There was no additional premium for the condition.”

Obviously every case is different but it’s good news that having skin cancer may not affect your ability to get covered for your travels.  However we do think it is a good idea to reassess your attitude towards the sun. We would certainly advocate practicing safe sun at all times – even in the UK.



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