Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world, with melanoma being one of the most common types. In the UK, more than 100,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year. The largest Dermatology Department on the south coast is housed at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth. To mark Skin Cancer Awareness month, we meet with Skin Care Nurse Specialist, Rebecca Clancy, who has specialised in dermatology care for 16 years.
“My role is to be a keyworker to people having surgery for skin cancer,” says Rebecca
“We diagnose and manage all aspects of skin conditions and a large part of our work is skin cancer. We are a large team of around 35 people with five theatre rooms in our department alone.
“The people of Portsmouth and its surrounding areas obviously have more access to water sports and outdoor activities. Light reflects off the water so when you’re in the water your risk of the sun intensifies. More often than not people don’t realise that they are being burnt because of the cold sea breeze. We are also a naval town so we have a generation of ex-service personnel who once had exposure to hot climates before skin cancer advice was generally given.
“The problem with skin cancer is that radiation can affect skin cells over time, meaning it may take years to surface. The first 18 years of your life are the most crucial because if you don’t practise good skin care – and have repeated episodes of being burnt by the sun for example, this could develop as skin cancer 30 or so years later.”
On average, a person's risk for melanoma doubles if he or she has had more than five sunburns. Portsmouth has seen an increase in admissions for skin cancer.
Rebecca added: “We saw 358 new diagnosis of melanoma in 2018, which is increasing annually. This could be for a number of reasons – perhaps people are savvier when it comes to checking their skin and being aware of new lumps and bumps and getting them checked out, which is great as it means that the cancer is being recognised at an earlier stage and the person has a better survival rate.”
“If the cancer is under a millimetre in thickness then the person has a 98 per cent of being cured. However, melanoma can spread though to other areas of the body which can require more extensive surgery and medical management. Clinically I manage the wound care of these patients as they often have skin grafts and require specialist support. Melanoma can wreak the most havoc if it travels to the liver, lungs or brain. Not only that but the thinner it is, the less chance there is of it coming back!”
Rebecca reveals that astonishingly, 80 per cent of melanoma cases are from new moles: “Everyone should check their skin on a regular basis, paying close attention to any new moles. The best way to remember it is through the ‘ABCDE’ rule.”
ABCDE rule - What to look out for when checking your moles:
A= ASYMMETRY: when one half of a mole does not match the other.
B= BORDER: when the borders are irregular, ragged or blurred.
C= COLOUR: when the colour changes or varies throughout and/or there appears to be no uniform pigmentation.
D= DIAMETER: when the diameter is greater than 6mm (could be smaller).
E= EVOLVING: changes in the mole over variable time: weeks/months/years.
“A worrying trend in skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation created by sunbeds, especially in younger years,” says Rebecca. “Sunbeds are easy to access, with some stations around which are unmanned. This means the person may not be aware of how much radiation exposure they are even receiving. This industry is largely unregulated but people who use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 per cent! Sadly, we have seen several youngsters whose skin cancer is a direct link to sunbed use in Portsmouth.”
In order to prevent skin cancer the guidelines include: