Improving the fight against malignant melanoma

27 July 2012

The message about people needing to protect their bodies against the risk of skin cancer has once again been raised following the release of a new study.

New figures discovered by Cancer Research UK this month have found that the most severe form of skin cancer is now more prevalent in middle-age people living in the UK.

According to the research, the number of cases of malignant melanoma in British men and women has jumped from less than 500 each year at the end of the 1970s to around 2,000 at the moment.

Malignant melanoma is known to be a rare form of skin cancer when compared to other types of the disease. However, the condition is a dangerous one as it can spread from the skin to the body's vital organs – a development known as metastasis.

Cancer Research UK's study has shown even more worrying figures relating to malignant melanoma. For one, more than five people a day in their 50s are now diagnosed with the disease, on average.

Furthermore, the rate of the condition has increased from 7.5 cases per 100,000 people in their 50s across the UK at the end of the 1970s to 26.6 cases per 100,000 currently.

It is not just Brits in their 50s which the study has focused on though. The research also highlighted that the total number of malignant melanoma cases across all age groups has leaped from 12,100 in 2009 to 12,800 in 2010. This is an increase of over five per cent in the space of just 12 months.

How can Brits bring these figures back down?

To help reach this goal, Sara Hiom, director of information at Cancer Research UK, stated: "Melanoma is a largely preventable disease; people can reduce their chance of developing skin cancer in the first place if they protect their skin from sunburn."

Indeed, the main cause of malignant melanoma is believed to be overexposure to the sun.

For Brits to become better protected against the sun's often harsh rays, Bevis Man, from the British Skin Foundation, has this advice to offer: "Sunscreen should always be used in addition to sensible clothing and hats, as sunscreen comes off with sweat and rubbing, whereas the protection offered by loose clothing remains consistent."

On top of this, sunscreen should be used on the skin at regular intervals throughout a day – not just first thing in the morning before stepping outside.

Malignant melanoma does not exclusively arise from overexposure to natural sunlight, however. It is widely believed that overusing sunbeds and sunlamps can have a detrimental effect on the skin.

This belief has been backed up recently by the release of new research led by Mathieu Boniol, of the International Prevention Research Institute.

Mr Boniol and his team analysed 27 studies, which included the details of more than 11,000 cases of cancer. During their research, the scientists discovered that people using sunbeds were 20 per cent more likely to suffer a form of skin cancer sometime during their lives.

Commenting on the findings, Mr Boniol underlined: "Prevention of the harmful effects associated with sunbed use must be based on tougher actions."

Elspeth Wigmore, information development nurse at Macmillan Cancer Support, has also looked to comment on the dangers of overexposure to a sunbed machine.

She pointed out: "Young people who use sunbeds are particularly at risk of developing skin cancers including the most serious type of skin cancer, malignant melanoma. Using a sunbed also ages your skin which will affect your appearance as you get older."

Be more aware of malignant melanoma

"It's also important that people are aware of the warning signs for malignant melanoma," Ms Hiom was keen to state as another way of improving the battle against this serious form of skin cancer.

This can be achieved by ticking off the ABCDE checklist, outlined by NHS Choices. Such a strategy relates to how people can distinguish whether something on the skin is a normal mole or a melanoma.

First off, A stands for asymmetrical and refers to the fact that melanomas are recognisable as they have two very different halves and are also an irregular shape.

B is for [irregular] border because of the fact that the condition has a ragged and notched border, unlike normal moles.

Next up, C points to the colour of melanomas, which can be a mixture of two or more varied tones.

Fourthly, diameter is the meaning of D and is highlighted as the disease can be larger than 6mm in diameter – much greater than a regular mole.

Finally, E stands for elevated or enlarged and is to refer to the fact that melanomas raise above the surface of the skin, while swelling or spreading is common under it.

A GP should be contacted if a person is concerned that they have developed a melanoma after completing this checklist.

Posted by Edward Bartel

Health News is provided by Adfero in collaboration with Spire Healthcare. Please note that all copy above is ©Adfero Ltd. and does not reflect views or opinions of Spire Healthcare unless explicitly stated. Additional comments on the page from individual Spire consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other consultants or Spire Healthcare.

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