The BBC today reported Cancer Research UK’s findings that more men are dying from melanoma skin cancer than women in the UK. Great timing with the red alert hot weather forecast for next week.

Apparently, this type of cancer, which can develop in sun-damaged skin, has been on the increase for both men and women in recent years. But it seems to be worse for men than women- melanoma deaths since 1973 have risen by 219% in men compared to 76% in women.

There are now about 1,400 deaths per year from melanoma in men, compared to 980 in women.

Cancer Research UK has also found melanoma growths happen on different parts of men’s bodies compared to women-there is a tendency for men to get them on their backs, because they can go completely shirtless, whereas a common place for women to develop melanoma is on their legs.

The chances of developing it also increase with age.

Overall, the risk of developing melanoma is 1:36  for men and 1:47 for women.

So what is melanoma?

It is not the most common or only type of skin cancer,  but is one of the most serious. If left untreated, it can spread to other organs in the body.

Melanoma is caused by skin cells that begin to develop abnormally. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is thought to cause most melanomas, but there’s evidence to suggest that some may result from sunbed exposure. The main type of sun exposure that causes melanoma is sudden intense exposure.

The charity says:

 “We all need to take steps to protect ourselves from the sun’s harmful UV rays. Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple your risk of skin cancer”

People worry that a mole-usually an evenly coloured, flat or slightly raised spot on the skin- could be cancer.  But very many people have moles and often from birth and they are just normal for them.  They are mainly harmless and once developed will generally not change at all.

The key is to note changes in existing moles or to find a new one. It is important to get these medically checked out to rule out melanoma or other types of cancer.

The “ABCDE” rule is used as a guide for checking out possibly cancerous spots.  If you notice any of these features with an existing mole, or a new one, do take medical advice:

A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.

B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.

C is for Colour: The colour is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.

D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimetres across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.

E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or colour.

BUT-be careful. Some melanomas don’t fit these rules. It’s important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles. These are called “Ugly Duckling” spots-ones which look different from any other moles you may have.

Other warning signs are:

  • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole
  • Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
  • Change in the surface of a mole – scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump

Melanoma is treatable if it is diagnosed early.  Late diagnosis may be part of the reason why men are faring worse, because they are notoriously bad at either not noticing things in the first place or if they do, just hoping whatever it is will go away.  So they don’t go for a check and by the time they do, it can be too late for any remedy.

Many skin cancers are noticed by others-partners, family, friends -because some are where you wouldn’t see them yourself, or at least not in the initial and most treatable stages. If you are worried, get someone else to have a look for you or try and check out yourself with mirrors.  But going to your GP is still the best option if you can for instance, feel something rubbing or itching.

The BBC tells the sad story of 52 year old Dominic Edwards, who was diagnosed with melanoma in 2010 after finding skin changes on his back.

Dominic said:

“It took a second opinion to have it confirmed. I was referred to hospital and they operated on it there and then. But the cancer still spread to my lymph glands in my armpits, which were eventually removed.”

He had 12 operations in all to remove various lumps, but in 2019 received the “devastating” news that he had been diagnosed with terminal Stage 4 cancer, despite never missing a treatment. This illustrates how serious this cancer can be.

Dominic added:

“Whilst driving around on a hot day or coming into work after the weekend, I see so many people looking burnt and I just can’t believe it.  It’s not just from sunbathing – golfers and builders get it. All you have to do is wear some sunscreen now and you could prevent skin cancer with very little stress.”

From a legal point of view, in medical negligence cancer claims of any sort, we are often looking at whether a diagnosis was missed altogether, or whether it could and should have been made earlier, thus leading to a better outcome for the patient/client.

But a diagnosis can ONLY be made if you present yourself for examination.  What isn’t seen can’t be diagnosed, so even though it is difficult to see a GP these days, keep on trying if you are concerned.  If you can only get a remote appointment, try and get some photos taken of the worrying spot/mole and email them to the surgery.  This is much the better way to illustrate them.

So, some tips for hot weather and protection, though much of it is commonsense really.

  • Don’t go out in the first place if you don’t have to.
  • Keep in the shade if you have to be out, particularly during the hottest times of the day – 11:00 to 15:00
  • Cover up with clothing- natural fabrics are more comfortable as is loose clothing and white reflects the light
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim
  • Regularly apply sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher and a four or five-star protection rating Children may well need a higher rating
  • Make sure to RE-APPLY sunscreen, especially if swimming, or active
  • Even if it’s cloudy you can still burn, so make sure to still put on sunscreen
  • Leave pets at home-hot cars are killers for animals. Make sure horses and small animals such as rabbits and chickens have shade and plenty of water
  • Keep well hydrated
  • Shift your work patterns if you can to early mornings or evenings when it’s cooler

BUT-don’t forget to enjoy the lovely weather while it’s here!  Winter can go on for a LONG time!

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