A Guide to Skin Cancer Prevention

doctor examining mole

As we move into another balmy summer, it’s worth taking the time to carefully examine our skin for signs of damage. Though it’s lovely to soak up sunshine, even a short time spent under UV rays without protection is risky. We caught up with Dr. Neil Reddy of Precision Healthcare, who explains the different types of skin cancer, shares helpful advice on looking after your skin, and outlines some helpful skin cancer prevention tips and strategies.

What is Melanoma?

You may have heard of the term ‘melanoma’. As Neil explains, it signals a cancer that’s likely to spread quickly, so requires quick action. “Most melanomas are pigmented (dark) spots”, he begins, “occurring on any part of the body. Melanoma tends to spread early, so has a high mortality rate. Surviving it is about detecting it as early as possible.” Non-melanoma cancers meanwhile look distinctly different. In fact, you might not recognise them as an urgent threat at all. “They’re generally non-pigmented red or pink spots (with some exceptions)”, says Neil, “and are more likely to occur on sun-exposed skin like head neck, arms and legs. They don’t spread as easily though, so can normally be cured by simple surgery.”

woman looking at mole

What to Look Out For

As Neil notes, regularly checking skin is a must, especially looking out for changes. “Melanoma can be recognised as a changing, pigmented spot. The change might be getting bigger, changing shape or colour, or just looking different from neighbouring spots.”

Though non-melanoma is less easy to detect, it’s just as important you detect it. “It’s recognised as a red/pink spot or area of irritated skin that hasn’t gone away for two to three months.” If in doubt, always seek professional advice; it could save your life. “There are many other skin conditions that may look like non-melanoma skin cancer, so it’s always best to check a suspicious spot with your GP, says Neil.” In fact, many GPs are now trained to examine your spots through a handheld microscope called a dermoscope. This will quickly let them know if a spot is benign and doesn’t need removal.

Who’s Most at Risk

Given that we’re such a fair-skinned race here in Ireland, it’s no surprise we’re more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer. “The people most at risk have blue eyes, red/blonde hair and pale skin”, says Neil. “They usually burn easily or never tan. Those with a family history of melanoma are also more at risk, as are people who take medications that reduce their immune system.” We often have great intentions of applying the factor 50, but surprise sunshine can catch us off guard. “Where many pale-skinned people get caught out is being exposed to sudden, unaccustomed, high levels of sun”, says Neil, “like going on holiday, or attending a once-off outdoor event.” It makes sense then to be prepared for sun, even if you’re not expecting intense heat.

woman applying sunscreen

Useful Advice

First up, “know your own skin type”, Neil urges, “especially how long it takes you to burn.” If you’re going to be outdoors for longer than that exposure limit, cover up with long sleeves and a hat. “If that’s not possible”, says Neil, “sunscreen may help protect against UV exposure.” He also recommends a handy app that can be used to monitor moles. “Knowing whether a spot has changed requires paying attention. This can be done by taking photos and comparing the photos every three or six months, or using a specifically-designed app, like Mole Monitor.”