Dermatologist examining the skin on the back of a patient

Ask the expert: how to reduce the risk of skin cancer

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable diseases – yet so many of us are not doing enough to protect ourselves and reduce the risk.

Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto.

“We don’t look at our bodies enough. As well as protecting our skin and checking moles regularly, there are many easy steps we can take to try and prevent skin cancer,” says Dev Shah, consultant dermatologist from OneWelbeck Skin Health & Allergy in London. 

Below, he shares the dos and don’ts of skincare, when to use SPF and what to do if you find a mole

Q: What is skin cancer? 

A: We have different types of cells that form our epidermis, which is the surface layer of skin. When these cells become damaged, usually due to sun exposure, it harms our body's DNA, which can cause the cells to grow abnormally and become cancerous.

Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in the western world and treatment is generally successful and curative. You are more likely to develop this if you spend a lot of time in the sun.

Melanoma is more likely to develop if you have sudden bursts of high sun exposure and burn or tan quickly. It develops on the surface layer of the skin and is more dangerous than non-melanoma as it can spread to the body.

Preventive checkup, skin melanoma days concept. Close up of hands of female doctor dermatologist onc

OneWelbeck Skin Health & Allergy offer same-day treatment for mole removal, so you can leave happy and reassured. - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: What causes skin cancer? 

A: Unprotected exposure to UV rays is very harmful to your skin. Spending longer than 10 minutes in the sun without SPF can break down the vitamin D, collagen and elastin in your body, which can age and damage the skin quicker.

Q: Can sunbeds give me skin cancer? 

A: Yes. After just two sessions on the sunbeds, your chances of developing skin cancer before the age of 30 will have doubled. 

Unfortunately, the lack of legislation and awareness on the damage caused by sunbeds in the UK has led many to believe that it’s safe in moderation, which isn’t the case. The World Health Organisation has likened the effects of sunbeds on the skin to smoking on the lungs - they are classed as type one carcinogens, meaning they are one of the most powerful causes of cancer.

Q: Who’s most at risk from skin cancer?

A: There are several factors which can make someone more at risk, including: 

  • Those who use sunbeds; 

  • Those with ‘type one’ skin – these individuals have fair skin that rarely tans and burns very easily; 

  • Genetics – if there is a history of skin cancer within the family, you are more likely to develop it during your lifetime.

Young mother applying protective sunscreen on daughter nose at beach. Woman hand putting sun lotion

SPF should be applied every hour when in direct sunlight, and every half an hour if you’re swimming or sweating. - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: What can I do to care for my skin?

A: There are several precautions you can take to boost your protection and lower the risk: 

  • Use spray tans or tanning lotions instead of sunbeds.

  • Avoid exposure to the midday sun between 11am and 2pm.

  • For UK residents, take vitamin D supplements to combat reduced sunlight – government advice suggests 10 micrograms of vitamin D per day for an adult.

  • Use long sleeve clothing and hats to block the sunlight

Q: What SPF should I be using and when should I be using it?

A: Use SPF 15 to 30 in the UK during winter (even on cloudy days), and 30 to 50 in the summer. For holidays abroad, I advise factor 50, and to apply a thin layer every hour to maintain the correct, higher protection - if you’re swimming or sweating, it needs to be every 30 minutes. Apply it at least half an hour before going out in the sun so it can dry and absorb into your skin. 

There are plenty of effective and discreet sunscreens now available to choose from. Purchase a couple of testers before your holiday to find one that feels best for you, as you’re more likely to use it.

Dark wart on woman's face with ruler. Removal of warts moles papillomas concept

If you have a new or existing mole that’s over six or seven millimetres, you should get checked by a doctor. - Getty Images/iStockphoto

Q: How do you check moles? 

A: Use the ‘ABCDEF’ rule for any new or existing moles to assess whether you need to come in for a check: 

A - Asymmetry – if all four borders of the mole aren’t the same 

B - Borders – if they’re scalloped or blurred 

C - Colour – if they’re not black or brown 

D - Diameter – if the mole is over six or seven millimetres 

E - Evolution – if a mole is changing shape or size 

F - Family history – you're 25 per cent more likely to develop skin cancer if someone in your family has had it before.

Q: How can you detect cancerous moles? 

A: OneWelbeck dermatologists can perform mole checks on your body, and then analyse any problematic areas of skin with a dermatoscope (which magnifies the mole). We will either remove it, monitor it or discharge you if there is no concern, and you will get an immediate answer on the day for peace of mind. 

OneWelbeck offers same-day biopsies for mole removal. This involves cutting off the cancerous area. After diagnosis and treatment of the cancer, there is a 25 per cent greater chance of it returning, so we will continue to monitor the patient for reassurance. 

The procedure only takes half an hour and you can resume most normal activities (apart from swimming and heavy exercise) straight away – it's that simple.

For more information on getting your mole checked, visit onewelbeck.com/dermatology-allergy/skin_conditions/moles. For enquiries, contact bookings.skinhealthallergy@onewelbeck.com or 020 3653 2007.