Hasn’t it been lovely to see the sunshine recently, even though we are not quite done with winter yet? I expect that like me, you have been outside and enjoying the spring flowers and blossom - displays of daffodils, tulips, magnolias and flowering trees, as well as bluebells all looking wonderful this spring.
We, like the flowers, love to tip our heads back to feel the warmth of the sun on our faces but a word of warning! It may only be April but the sunshine can still be strong at this time of year in terms of UVA and UVB rays and we should all protect our skin even though we are a couple of months from summer! Dermatologists advise us to use at least Factor 30 sunscreen on all exposed areas, and a higher SPF on children. We also need to know that thin materials and the open weave in straw hats can let the sunshine through as well as car windows. Climate change is making this even more important as our weather becomes more extreme.
I know, you have heard it all before! You might say that you have darker skin so you won’t burn, and anyway, if you do get skin cancer, it can soon be chopped out - job done! From personal experience and that of several friends I can tell you quite equivocally that it is NOT as easy as that!
I could name you three friends of mine who, much to their horror have had skin cancer on their faces and needed to have plastic surgery. Fortunately their surgeons have done wonderful jobs with only minimal scarring but not everyone is that lucky! Marks on your face are fairly easy to keep an eye on but what about your back and your legs? Do you ever check your moles or ask a family member to give you a look-over for ‘funny moles’ or ones which change shape or size?
Legs are a very common place for females to get melanomas, while for men it is backs and, of course, follicly challenged gents should be careful of their heads. (Boots sell a very good, non-greasy spray for heads if preferable to a hat.) Dermatology departments everywhere are becoming more and more busy treating folk with cancer of one kind or another.
‘Just’ chopping the cancer out translates into a minor operation to remove the suspicious area for biopsy but if malignancy is found, a larger area of flesh needs to be removed with perhaps as much as a 3 cm margin from around the original incision - around the sides and also down into flesh! Monitoring with regular trips to Dermatology for review then continues for 5 years.
But that might not be the end! Melanoma is a very aggressive form of cancer and it is not unheard of for it to reappear many years later in a different place - it only takes one remaining cell and a time when the immune system is low for it to pop up again. Then it is a race against time before the malignant cells find their way into the main organs of the body. And, just in case you may think that new cancer treatments can surely sort this out .......... chemotherapy does not work on melanomas! The new treatment option is immunotherapy for up to 2 years (given like chemotherapy but kick starts your own immune system to deal with cancer cells) but ........ this only has a 40% success rate!
PLEASE REMEMBER where skin cancer is concerned - EARLY DETECTION IS KEY but PROTECTION IS BETTER!
Of course, a little sunshine tops up our vitamin D and we all feel we look better for having a tan but beware sunbeds and tanning lamps which have also now been proven to be dangerous for our skin, particularly for the under 30 age group. There is a campaign at present to have them banned! Better by far to use self-tanning creams and lotions - you just have to find the ones which don’t smell peculiar!!
I will leave you with the tale of a small, middle aged woman who was so addicted to having a suntan that every afternoon (when it wasn’t freezing cold or raining) she could be found in a south coast car park lying on the shelf under the windscreen of her car in a bikini. She was a mahogany colour but so deeply wrinkled that she looked about 100! She was an object of ridicule but that was in the days when sun screen and self tanning creams had not been invented and we all used olive oil to ‘enhance’ our tans! Science has brought us a long way since then and we ignore its findings at our peril!
With two Bank Holidays coming up, I think we are all hoping for some more good weather to coax us outside to enjoy our gardens and countryside. Just don’t get burnt!
Best wishes to you all,