Avoid skin cancer

Dr Mark Goodfield, consultant dermatologist and president of the British Association of Dermatologists, explains shares his expert advice

Be aware of your family history
Around two per cent of melanoma cases have a family history of the disease, but this is often due to sharing similar pale skin types that burn easily. However, melanoma can occur as a result of an inherited faulty gene. People with a suspected genetic link to the disease may have access to genetic testing and counselling – ask your GP.

Women are more at risk of developing melanoma than men, who are most likely to develop malignant melanomas on their torso and head. Women typically develop them on their legs. Non-melanoma skin cancer is slightly different. Men are most likely to get it on their face, scalp and ears – areas that are frequently exposed to the sun. As women generally have longer hair and don’t tend to be bald, areas like the scalp are affected less.

The danger of sunbeds
If you’re tempted to top up your tan with a sunbed session, be aware that the UV rays emitted by some sunbeds are more intense even than those emitted by the midday sun. One study estimated that sunbed use in this country leads to around 100 deaths from malignant melanoma each year. Another report found that people who start using sunbeds before the age of 35 increase their risk of malignant melanoma by 75 per cent.

How to protect your children
Overexposure to the sun as a child or teenager dramatically increases the risk of developing skin cancer in later life, and regular use of sunscreens during the first 18 years of life has been predicted to reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancer by up to 78 per cent.

Babies and young children should be kept out of all direct sunlight, and toddlers and older children should be encouraged to stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm.

Apply liberal amounts of a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 50 and labelled “very high protection” when they go outside or to school. Remember to reapply after swimming, as 85 per cent of sunscreen can be removed by towel drying.

If your teenagers are desperate to get a tan, get them to use sunscreen (and tell them the price they pay for a tan in their teens is wrinkles in their thirties, and the risk of skin cancer too).

For more information, visit the National Sun Awareness Campaign at bad.org.uk/sunawareness.

Macmillan’s helpline offers support for those affected by cancer. Call 0800-500800 or visit macmillan.org.uk

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