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Although sunlight exposure is a normal part of everyday life and some sunlight is good for health, there are risks from excessive exposure.
Melanoma is one of the fastest growing skin cancers worldwide.
On average, not less than two people get a new diagnosis every day in Ireland.
It is formed from melanocytes, which produces melanin that is the dark pigment responsible for skin colour.
It can start from any part of the human body which contains these melanocytes. In men, melanoma is often found on the trunk (the area from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. In women, melanoma forms most often on the arms and legs.
Melanoma is most common in adults, but it is sometimes found in children and adolescents.
The incidence of Melanoma is on the increase in Ireland and the projections from the NCRI are quite sobering.
Some At-risk groups
Groups of people who should take extra care to avoid skin damage and skin cancer, including: children (particularly babies) and young people, people who tend to burn rather than tan, people with lighter skin, fair or red hair, blue or green eyes, or who have lots of freckles
People with many moles, people who are immunosuppressed (that is, they have less resistance to skin problems as a result of a disease or use of particular drugs)
People with a personal or family history of skin cancer (even if their natural skin colour is darker than that of the family member who had cancer).
Groups who spend a lot of time in the sun and so are at increased risk of skin cancer, such as: outdoor workers, those with outdoor hobbies, for example, sailing, farmers or golfers.
Groups with high, but intermittent, exposure to sunlight and who are therefore at increased risk of skin cancer. This includes people who sunbathe or take holidays in sunny countries.
Over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation, particularly through episodic skin exposure involving severe sunburn, is the main risk factor for melanoma of the skin. Melanoma incidence is highest in more affluent populations within Ireland, and the marked increases in melanoma incidence rates in Ireland are probably associated with increases in holidaying outside Ireland.
1994-2014: Annual Report of the National Cancer Registry (2016)
Causes of Melanoma
Increased exposure to sunlight is one of the risk factors. It is important to be careful when exposing the skin to the sun because of the damage it can cause. Repeated sunburn, which develops blisters on the skin during childhood, could increase the chances of developing melanoma in later years.
In Ireland, sunlight is strongest between 10am and 3pm between March and October. This is the time Sunburn is most likely.
Advice for children and young people
Children under 6 months of age should be kept out of direct strong sunlight. Between March and October in Ireland, children and young people need their skin protecting. They should cover up with suitable clothing, be encouraged to spend time in the shade (particularly between 10am and 3pm) and wear sunscreen.
Approaches to protecting skin
The skin should be protected from strong sunlight by covering up with suitable clothing, seeking shade and applying sunscreen. Sunscreen is not an alternative to covering up with suitable clothing and seeking shade, but it does offer additional protection. It can also be useful when other methods of protection are not available, but only if used liberally, carefully and repeatedly on all exposed skin.
Sunscreen should: Meet minimum standards for UVA protection (the label should have the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle logo). Preferably, the label should state that it provides good UVA protection (for example, at least ‘4-star UVA protection’).
Provide at least sun protection factor (SPF)15 to protect against UVB.
The amount of sunscreen needed for the body of an average adult to achieve the stated SPF is around 35 ml or 6 to 8 teaspoons of lotion.
If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives is reduced (for example, someone using too little SPF15 may only be achieving around SPF5 level of protection or less).
Using SPF30 sunscreen or higher may partially overcome problems with inadequate application. But it does not necessarily mean people can spend more time in the sun without the risk of burning. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied liberally, frequently and according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
This includes straight after being in water (even if it is ‘water-resistant’) and after towel drying, sweating or when it may have rubbed off. If someone plans to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied twice to exposed areas of skin: half an hour before, and again around the time they go out in the sun. This includes the face, neck and ears (and head if someone has thinning or no hair), but a wide-brimmed hat is better.
What is UVA
UV radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. Both UVA and UVB, penetrate the atmosphere and play an important role in conditions such as premature skin ageing, eye damage (including cataracts), and skin cancers including melanoma.
Using sunbeds increases the risk of developing melanoma because it uses artificial UV rays which damage the skin’s DNA.
The World Health Organisation tells us that using a sunbed causes skin cancer. Even one sunbed session can increase your risk of developing squamous cell skin cancer by sixty seven percent and basal cell skin cancer by twenty nine percent.
Even more importantly is the increased risk of melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. If you have ever used a sunbed your risk of melanoma increases by twenty percent.
Using it before the age of 35 increases your risk by almost sixty percent
Skin cancer is the fastest growing cancer in Ireland. 10,000 new cases were diagnosed in this country in 2011. Most cases are caused by UV rays from the sun or sunbeds. Each year more than 850 new cases of melanoma are reported and 150 Irish people die from skin cancer. (Irish Cancer society)
People with fair-skin, fair or red hair, freckles and blue/green eyes are more at risk of developing melanoma because they are more sun-sensitive.
Skin types 1 and 2 are the predominant skin types in Celtic people, which means that for many Irish people no amount of baking in the sun will produce a tan.
Presence of moles on the skin.
If you have moles also known as atypical nevus syndrome, on the skin, there is increased risk of developing melanoma. .
Those with family history of melanoma are also at risk.
Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer
Melanoma begins with some changes in normal healthy skin. It starts with a mole-like growth usually dark. Other signs are: unusual moles, sores, lumps, blemishes, markings or changes in the way an area of the skin looks or feels. These may be signs of melanoma or another type of skin cancer, or a warning that it might occur.
A mole shows signs of bleeding or crusting
A mole itches or tingles
A growth under the nail or some newly discovered dark color stripe on some parts of the nail.
A mole that is evolving (changing shape colour or size)
The best time to check for these signs is after a shower or bath. This can be done by using the mirror to check areas of the skin
Changes to check for include: a new mole, growth or lump, or any moles, freckles or patches of skin that change in size, shape or colour (people should tell their doctor if they notice any unusual or persistent changes).
Even if it is cool or cloudy, it is possible to burn in the middle of the day in summer. It is also possible to burn at other times of the day and year. There is no safe or healthy way to get a tan from sunlight. Getting a tan provides little protection against later exposure to sunlight and the resulting skin damage outweighs any later protective effect
Types of Melanoma
Superficial spreading melanoma. This is the most common category. Out of every 10 diagnosed cases, around 7 turn out to be this type worldwide.
Nodular melanoma. This category of melanoma has the tendency to spread faster to other parts of the body. This can be found in parts of the skin regularly exposed to the sun. This grows downwards into the skin and spreads fast . Its color is brown black, very dark. This type may not necessarily develop from areas exposed to sun
Lentigo maligna melanoma. This type grows from pigmented areas of skin known as lentigo maligna. This type is common with older people. Since it appears on only the part of the skin that is mostly exposed to the sun, the face is mostly the target area. It is flat. It grows from within to the outside layer of the skin. There is the tendency for it to grow bigger and deeper over the years which can lead to a lumpy formation.
Acral lentiginous melanoma. This category is rare as they are found mostly on the soles of the feet, big toenail and palms of the hands. It can sometime be found under the finger nails. The target areas are the feet rather than the hands.
Amelanotic melanoma. From the name, it implies the absence of melanin. This type has little to no color common to all melanoma. In rare cases, it could vary in color such as being pinkish, brownish or reddish at the edges. Due to its lack of colour, it is very difficult to diagnose and could be assumed to be some type of skin infection.
Out of the three main types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer, melanoma is the most dangerous.
Its no “big deal” its only skin cancer!
Let me tell you: That black spot that is “only” skin cancer can be one of the most aggressive, vicious diseases if it gets inside your body. Your best defence is to have any weird changes to your skin checked out and removed as early as possible, when the minor surgical fix is easy and the cure rate is nearly 100%.
Stage 4 survivor
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