July & August Health Awareness: Skin Cancer, Water Hydration & Sun Awareness

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Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world. Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin.

The term non-melanoma distinguishes these more common types of skin cancer from the less common skin cancer known as melanoma, which can be more serious.

In the UK, around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year. It affects more men than women and is more common in the elderly.

Symptoms of non-melanoma cancer

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that persists after a few weeks and slowly progresses over months or sometimes years. This is the cancer, or tumour.

In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm and sometimes turn into ulcers, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly.

Non-melanoma skin cancer most often develops on areas of skin regularly exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.

See a GP if you have any skin abnormality, such as a lump, ulcer, lesion or skin discolouration that has not healed after 4 weeks. While it's unlikely to be skin cancer, it's best to get it checked.

Hydration

Dehydration means your body loses more fluids than you take in. If it's not treated, it can get worse and become a serious problem.

Check if you're dehydrated

Symptoms of dehydration in adults and children include:

  • feeling thirsty
  • dark yellow and strong-smelling pee
  • feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • feeling tired
  • a dry mouth, lips and eyes
  • peeing little, and fewer than 4 times a day

Dehydration can happen more easily if you have:

  • diabetes
  • vomiting or diarrhoea
  • been in the sun too long (heatstroke)
  • drunk too much alcohol
  • sweated too much after exercising
  • a high temperature of 38C or more
  • been taking medicines that make you pee more (diuretics)

How you can reduce the risk of dehydration

Drink fluids when you feel any dehydration symptoms.

If you find it hard to drink because you feel sick or have been sick, start with small sips and then gradually drink more.

You can use a spoon to make it easier for your child to swallow the fluids.

You should drink enough during the day so your pee is a pale clear colour.

Drink when there's a higher risk of dehydrating. For example, if you're vomiting, sweating or you have diarrhoea.

Sun Awareness

Sunburn increases your risk of skin cancer. Sunburn does not just happen on holiday. You can burn in the UK, even when it's cloudy. 

There's no safe or healthy way to get a tan. A tan does not protect your skin from the sun's harmful effects.

Aim to strike a balance between protecting yourself from the sun and getting enough vitamin D from sunlight.

Sun safety tips

Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest. In the UK, this is between 11am and 3pm from March to October.

Make sure you:

  • spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
  • make sure you never burn
  • cover up with suitable clothing and sunglasses
  • take extra care with children
  • use at least factor 30 sunscreen

What factor sunscreen (SPF) should I use?

Do not rely on sunscreen alone to protect yourself from the sun. Wear suitable clothing and spend time in the shade when the sun's at its hottest.  

When buying sunscreen, the label should have:

  • a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against UVB
  • at least 4-star UVA protection

UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters "UVA" in a circle, which indicates that it meets the EU standard.

Make sure the sunscreen is not past its expiry date. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2 to 3 years.

Do not spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.

What are the SPF and star rating?

The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) protection.

SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection they offer, with 50+ offering the strongest form of UVB protection.

The star rating measures the amount of ultraviolet A radiation (UVA) protection. You should see a star rating of up to 5 stars on UK sunscreens. The higher the star rating, the better.

The letters "UVA" inside a circle is a European marking. This means the UVA protection is at least a third of the SPF value and meets EU recommendations.

Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called broad spectrum.

How to apply sunscreen

Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. 

As a guide, adults should aim to apply around:

  • 2 teaspoons of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck
  • 2 tablespoons if you're covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume

If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives is reduced.

If you're worried you might not be applying enough SPF30, you could use a sunscreen with a higher SPF.

If you plan to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied twice:

  • 30 minutes before going out
  • just before going out 

Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin, including the face, neck and ears, and head if you have thinning or no hair, but a wide-brimmed hat is better.

Sunscreen needs to be reapplied liberally and frequently, and according to the manufacturer's instructions.

This includes applying it straight after you have been in water, even if it's "water resistant", and after towel drying, sweating or when it may have rubbed off.

It's also recommended to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, as the sun can dry it off your skin.

Protect your moles

If you have lots of moles or freckles, your risk of getting skin cancer is higher than average, so take extra care.

Avoid getting caught out by sunburn. Use shade, clothing and a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to protect yourself.

Keep an eye out for changes to your skin.

Changes to check for include:

  • a new mole, growth or lump
  • any moles, freckles or patches of skin that change in size, shape or colour

Report these to your doctor as soon as possible. Skin cancer is much easier to treat if it's found early.

Published: Jul 1, 2021