How to protect against skin cancer - Surrey Mirror May 2015

There is one thing you can guarantee when the sun comes out – suddenly the streets and parks of Surrey are filled with people wearing strappy tops and flip flops, shorts and T-shirts.

This is also another thing you can be sure of says Dr Sandeep Cliff, consultant dermatologist – those sun lovers might be carrying a tube of sun cream, but won’t be using it properly.

“Most people put on sun cream once, and then forget about it for the rest of the day, and even then they don’t apply enough,” he says.

“For example, holiday makers will fly out from Gatwick Airport with a full bottle of sun cream and, after a two week holiday, will still be left with more than half a bottle. During that holiday, they should have emptied at least three bottles.”

A bottle of sun cream is one of several defenses against skin cancer. Surrey, Sussex and Kent have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in England, and worryingly it is on the increase in young people – those aged 15-34.

In his 15-plus years as a skin specialist, Dr Cliff says he has seen a noticeable difference in the age of patients being diagnosed with skin cancer – one recently as young as 14 years old.

“The main cause of this is exposure of these patients to sun while they are aged between five and 15 – this increases their chances of having skin cancer later in life.”

The sudden appearance of moles on your body, or changes in the appearance of existing ones, can be a sign of melanoma - cancer of the pigment cells of the skin.

But Dr Cliff says early detection and treatment can prevent the cancer spreading.

“Picking it up early is the best chance of getting rid of it. If you see a mole on your body, or your partner’s, that you think is new, make a mental note to have a look in a month’s time. If you think you see a change – it has grown bigger, is too black or bleeds - go to your GP”.

Dr Cliff’s tips on how to use sun cream:

  • Choose a sun cream with SPF 15 minimum, and put on an hour before going outside
  • Cover the body - there is no need to spend hours rubbing it in. Just make sure you apply adequate amounts.
  • Replenish every couple of hours.
  • Sunscreen should not be used as an alternative to clothing and shade as no sunscreen will provide 100% protection. So, avoid being in the sun between 11-3pm and wear a hat that covers your neck as well as shields your face. A black t-shirt will also be better at blocking the sun’s rays than a white one.

Dr Sandeep Cliff is a consultant dermatologist at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital in Povey Cross Road, Horley. In his `one-stop’ mole clinic, he will assess the entire body for moles, remove and treat any that are of concern. To book an appointment, please call 01293 778 906.

Originally published in May 2015 by the Surrey Mirror.

The ABCDE check

It can be difficult to tell the difference between a melanoma and a normal mole. The following checklist – known as the ABCDE list – will give you an idea of what to look out for:

  • Asymmetry - Melanomas are likely to be irregular or asymmetrical. Ordinary moles are usually symmetrical (both halves look the same). 
  • Border - Melanomas are more likely to have an irregular border with jagged edges. Moles usually have a well-defined regular border. 
  • Colour - Melanomas tend to have more than one colour. They may have different shades like brown mixed with black, red, pink, white or a bluish tint. Moles are usually one shade of brown. 
  • Diameter - Melanomas are usually more than 7mm in diameter. Moles are normally no bigger than the blunt end of a pencil (about 6mm across). 
  • Evolving (changing) - Look for changes in the size, shape or colour of a mole. 


Source: Macmillan Cancer Support. For more information, visit

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