Men and melanoma - that means you!
Don't you just love the British weather? A month ago we were basking in uninterrupted sunshine. Yesterday the rain was lashing down so hard that my windscreen wipers couldn't keep up. But at least this summer, unlike the last one, wasn't among the coldest and wettest on record.
It's hard to imagine, when the skies have been grey forever, that skin cancer - the biggest risk of sunshine - could be an issue to Brits. But new research reminds us that even in cloud-ridden Britain, skin cancer is a real and growing threat.
There are two main kinds of skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancer, including basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer, are about 20 times more common than melanoma. They can be deadly, and everyone should keep an eye out for the warning signs. But malignant melanomas are the ones we need to take the most urgent action on. While melanomas account for only about 5% of skin cancer, they're responsible for 80% of the 2,800 skin cancer deaths in the UK in 2011.
New research reveals that while men aren't diagnosed with melanoma more often than women in the UK, they are 70% more likely to die from it than their female counterparts. And the gap is widening - since the early 1970s, death rates in UK men have increased by 185% compared to a 55% rise among women. As yet, the reasons aren't entirely clear - but it's highly likely that the traditional British male attitudes of not wanting to bother the doctor and burying your head in the sand play at least some part. Men are also more likely than women to go topless at work, increasing the risk of sunburn and therefore melanomas on the back, where they may be harder to spot.
Your likelihood of getting melanoma rises with the number of times you've been sunburnt and how badly you were burnt. Children in particular are at risk of melanoma in later life if they get burnt in childhood. Other risk factors for melanoma include having pale skin, having lots of moles, a family history of skin cancer and using sunbeds (just don't - EVER!).
The moral of this story? First, any burning is a sign that your skin has been damaged, so do take precautions to avoid it. Second, follow the ABCDE rule. Finally, if you do spot any skin changes you suspect might be abnormal, do get them checked out promptly. I would far rather check out a hundred lumps and bumps and reassure people than risk one person putting off treatment until it's too late. You may not want to bother the GP unnecessarily, but believe me, as far as skin cancer is concerned, there's no such thing as unnecessary.