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Skin Cancer

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

It's officially summer, and although we want to enjoy the sunshine, we need to be careful when exposing our skin to harmful rays, even if you're not going abroad. Our panel will be discussing what we need to do to be sun smart, and what to do if you think you may be at risk of melanoma.

The number of people being diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer has almost doubled in the last ten years.

People think that because they may not be going abroad, that they don't need to cover up. Most people have 80% of sun exposure as a child, and because adults are more likely to get skin cancer if they have been burnt in the early years of their life, it is more important than ever for parents to be aware of the sun.

90% of melanoma can be cured if detected on time.

Dr. John Ball, Fairview Park Medical Centre

What are the common signs of skin cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the few cancers that can be got quite early as most of the signs are visible. Signs are mainly related to the skin lesion, so a lesion increasing in size, that looks irregular , bleeds or itches are all reasons to have that lesion checked out.

Why is it so common in Ireland?

Mainly because of our genetics being predominantly of pale skin. Races that are pale and have little pigment are more susceptible to changes to the skin which can go on to become cancerous.

What is the difference between skin cancer and melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. Melanomas are usually pigmented/dark lesions while the other main types of skin cancer (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) are often not that much different form your skin colour and so can be harder to spot.

Do you have an average idea of how many people would visit you during the summer because of severe sunburn?

Every year I would see at least 2/3 people who get bad sunburn or who underestimate the power of the sun on their children. I think awareness is getting better but given our many sun-less days it is not surprising how quickly we forget the suns dangers.

Is there a method you use to check if a mole is cancerous?

We look for change in size/ shape / colour or new symptoms such as bleeding or itch and if in doubt, then a biopsy of the area can be organised to confirm what type of tissue the skin area is from.

What are risk factors?

. Ultraviolet light
. Genetic predisposition (being irish!)
. Some industrial hazards( like coal tar products)
. Long Standing skin inflammation
. Immunity problems ( such as some people who have had transplants and are on medications to reduce their immune response)

Dr. Cal Condon, Dermatologist, Blackrock Clinic

According to latest figures, people most affected are in their 60's and 70's, why is that?

Well we're a product of our own making, people who are older would have had a lot of exposure to the sun before everyone spoke about sun cream and the dangers of skin cancer.

Why has there been an increase in the last ten years, when we have heard so much about the dangers of the sun?

Increase in sun holidays over the last ten/fifteen years. The more affluent we become, the higher the instances of skin cancer.

Adults of this generation wouldn't have been aware of the dangers of the sun when they were kids, so they would have been exposed to the sun and sunburn as children.

People are living longer. Cancer is more likely to develop in the later years, so an aging population will have more chance of having cancer.

Is anyone in particular more susceptible to skin cancer- i.e fair people, freckles etc.?

Risk Factors are:

. Family History
. Previous incidence
. Skin Type
. Moles

What skin type is susceptible?

Fair skin, as it burns easier. Sallow skin can still get burnt but if you have Spanish skin or dark skin the chances are much lower. Also if you have a lot of moles there is more chance of getting it.

How important is early detection?

Early detection is crucial. Skin cancer develops in the upper layer of the skin, and the longer it is left the deeper it gets, and it becomes involved with the blood supply. Most melanoma's when found are 1 - 4 mm in depth.

What should people look out for, and is it true that most melanoma is from new moles?

Yes the majority of moles with melanoma form from nothing, so look out for moles that are new, or if there are new ones get them checked.

What is the risk for non-melanoma skin cancer?

These are basic cell skin cancer and there is a direct link with this and sun exposure. At least one in 3 people in Ireland will get this so prevention is key. There is a low mortality rate, however, it tends to happen around the ears, eyes and other places on the face so it is hard to treat or remove, so this is a risk as well as melanoma.

How to detect a mole that may be melanoma

A - Asymmetry
B - Borders
C - Colour
D - Dimension
E - Evolution

Other Facts:

The number of people being diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer has almost doubled in the last ten years.

According to figures released by the Irish Cancer Society, the incidence of the disease increased in men and women across all age groups by 92% from 1998-2008.
However, the biggest increase has been in people in their 60s and 70s.

The ICS said melanoma skin cancer, otherwise known as malignant melanoma, is the most dangerous and difficult to treat form of skin cancer.
ICS Health Promotion Manager Norma Cronin said people are putting themselves at risk because of the way they behaved in the sun.
Ms Cronin said: 'There has been a stark rise in the incidence of melanoma across all age groups but especially in older people.

'The Irish Cancer Society believes that the soaring increase in this generation shows the impact that tanning behaviour had on a whole generation of men and women who would have been in their adolescent years and in their early 20s when the explosion in the package holiday industry was starting, when sunburn before suntan became a common ritual both at home and abroad and when sunbeds arrived in Ireland.'

The ICS said that of the 756 new cases of melanoma skin cancer that were diagnosed in 2008, 139 cases were in the 60-69 age group and 274 cases were in the 70+ age group.
Ms Cronin added: 'It is also important that you check your own skin regularly and look out for any changes that occur in the skin.
'If you notice a moles change in shape, colour or size, get it checked by your GP without delay. Early detection of melanoma is vital and can save your life.'

Call the National Cancer Helpline on 1800 200 700