More than 75% of us would not recognise symptoms of skin cancer according to a major new study by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD).
The poll of more than 1,000 people revealed that although the majority of those surveyed knew the disease was becoming more common, many were unaware of the link between skin cancer and sunburn.
Cases of skin cancer, which now kills more than 2,000 people each year in the UK, have been increasing steadily since the 1960s due to what many attribute to the emergence of cheap foreign travel and the rise in the popularity of outdoor pursuits.
According to the BAD survey, more than 250,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year alongside the 13,000 new cases of the less common but more dangerous, Melanoma.
The results were published during Sun Awareness Week which ran from 4-10 May and aimed to educate the public about sun protection techniques and the ways in which we can check ourselves for signs of skin cancer.
Although more than 80% of those surveyed admitted to being worried about the potential impact of the UK climate on skin cancer rates, 40% said they never checked their bodies for signs of the disease.
72% admitted to having been sunburnt in the last year while 77% and 81% respectively said they weren’t confident that they would be able to recognise signs of either Melanoma or non-Melanoma skin cancer.
Despite the unpredictable weather we so often have in the UK, we are still exposed to significant levels of potentially deadly ultraviolet radiation even when the sky is overcast or on very windy days.
When holidaying abroad, many of us take it for granted that getting sunburnt is simply part and parcel of a normal summer holiday. In fact, too many young people seek to go as brown as possible and feel perfectly comfortable lying in the sun for hours on end with only minimal sunscreen protection.
People underestimate the irreparable damage sunburn can do to our skin and most of us are unaware that the risk of developing Melanoma more than doubles if we have a history of sunburn.
It is crucial that those of us who spend a lot of time outside take the necessary precautions to protect their skin from ultraviolet radiation and actively reduce the risks of skin cancer.
Preventative steps can include staying out the sun between 11am and 3pm, wearing long sleeves, sunglasses and a hat, and using a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15, making sure to cover often-missed areas such as the lips, ears, scalp and neck.
One way of spotting the difference between a harmless mole and something more sinister such as a Melanoma is to use the ABCDE checklist:
Asymmetrical - melanomas have two very different halves and are irregular in shape and colour.
Border - unlike a normal mole, melanomas have a ragged border
Colours - melanomas will be a mix of two or more colours
Diameter - melanomas are larger than most moles at around 6mm
Enlargement or elevation - a mole that changes characteristics and size over time is more likely to be a melanoma
If diagnosed early, Melanoma can usually be cured, but when left to develop, the cancer can grow and spread to other parts of the body.
Mistakes in diagnosing Melanoma can be very serious and often occur because GPs fail to recognise symptoms and refer patients for specialist care early enough or because tissue samples are misinterpreted under the microscope.
Unfortunately, the Clinical Negligence team at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK regularly deal with such cases and we often see the devastating consequences delays in diagnosing skin cancer can have on patients and their families.
Paul Sankey is a Senior Clinical and Medical Negligence Solicitor leading the Slater and Gordon Lawyers Clinical Negligence team in London.
If you or a loved one suffered from Melanoma due to clinical or medical negligence, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers for a free consultation on freephone 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.