Professor Simon Kay, consultant in plastic and reconstructive surgery at Spire Leeds Hospital is warning young people to be more aware than ever before of the dangers that sunburn can cause as figures released by Cancer Research UK show that the rates of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma are five times higher than four decades ago.
Professor Kay believes that the message about sun safety is not getting across to young people who are increasing their risks through ‘binge’ sunbathing (over exposure of skin to the sun that results in burning).
“The specific danger to younger people is that these are the years much of the skin damage is done that causes problems in later life. Sun damage can remain undetected for years,” said Professor Kay. “Just one episode of burning below the age of 18 can double the future risks.”
Professor Kay draws attention to the two main types of the disease: non-melanoma and malignant melanoma, which in the majority of cases are caused by exposure of the skin to sun. “Non-melanoma is the most common and usually more easily treated skin cancer. Malignant melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer as it can spread to other tissues and organs."
He recommends regular self-checks of the skin to look for signs of any abnormalities, which can be treated if caught early but left unchecked may develop into serious cancers. A change in normal appearance of the skin should not be ignored and requires a visit to the GP. Signs to look for include moles that change in shape, size or colour, broken or ulcerated skin that appears for no obvious reason and doesn’t heal quickly, or sore spots that continue to hurt, itch or bleed for long periods of time.
“There is a significant increase in survival rates if melanoma is caught early so there is every reason to be vigilant. It could save your life,” added Professor Kay.
Professor Kay recommends a video on YouTube that warns young people of the danger.
Spire Leeds Hospital recommends the following tips to help you stay safe in the sun:
- Make sure you never burn in the sun. If you are determined to acquire a tan do it gradually. Damage is done when the skin burns, long before it is bad enough to blister. (A burn has occurred when the skin goes red and feels painful.)
- Avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day – between 11am and 3pm. Find shade under umbrellas, trees and other shelters.
- Always cover up with a high factor broad spectrum sunscreen. Sunscreen alone is not enough. Wear t-shirts, wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses.
- Young skin is particularly at risk – sunburn in children under 15 leaves them at higher risk of eventually developing skin cancer.
- Babies should be kept out of the sun completely, while older children should be protected with both sunscreen and clothing.
- Apply sunscreen when travelling in a car, on a bus or train, as sun can still have an affect on your skin through the windows.