It’s April and the sun has just come out of hibernation, so why not get out on my bike?
In a bid to make the most of a midweek day off, I went cycling, but little did I know that the unfamiliar Yorkshire sun was burning my skin.
With tan, or should I say burn, lines marking my arms and my face flush with redness, it’s clearly easy to forget that you can burn at home or abroad at more or less any time of year.
Damage to the skin through exposure to the sun can, of course, have dramatic and at times life-threatening consequences.
Cancer Research UK has released statistics that show the rates of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – are now five times higher than 40 years ago.
The organisation attributes the news that more than 13,000 people are now developing the disease every year to the rise of package holidays and sunbed use, but it’s easy to forget how often our skin is at risk.
Pudsey mum Amanda Crosland, 44, was preparing for a holiday in Cyprus with her two toddlers Beth and Amy when she spotted a suspicious mole on her left calf, which turned out to be a malignant melanoma, in 2001.
“I was really lucky,” she said. “I would have left two small babies if the doctors didn’t act as quickly as they did.
“It was just amazingly quick but if it wasn’t for them the consequence could have been that I wouldn’t be here now.”
Amanda, whose children Beth and Amy are now 16 and 14 respectively and urging people to join Cancer Research UK’s Race for Life events in Leeds on May 30 and 31, puts her skin cancer diagnosis down to her getting severe sunburn on her calf during a family holiday when she was aged nine.
Doctors have called the rise in diagnosis “alarming”, particularly as sun damage to the skin accumulates over time.
In line with the suggestion that many older people would not have been aware of how to protect their skin decades ago, figures show that 5,700 over-65s are diagnosed with skin cancer each year, compared to just 600 in the mid-1970s.
Amanda said: “There is a lack of understanding of just how dangerous the sun is – even in early April. Protecting yourself is not just about now, it’s protecting you for the future.”
Caroline Cerny, Cancer Research UK’s senior health campaigns manager, explained that sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged which can, over time, lead to skin cancer. She said: “Everyone loves getting out and about and enjoying the summer sun. It’s essential to take care not to burn.”
Whether you’re on holiday or at home, sunburn can cause long-lasting skin damage.
One thing’s for sure, next time I’m out cycling in the sun, I’ll make sure I’m protected.
TOP TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE IN THE SUN
The Cancer Research UK SunSmart campaign offers five tips to protect your skin against sun damage.
- Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
- Make sure you never burn.
- Aim to cover up with a t-shirt, hat and glasses.
- Remember to take extra care with children.
- Then use factor 15-plus sunscreen.
Aside from those tips, anyone who notices mole changes or unusual skin growths are urged to contact their GP.
Visit cancerresearchuk.org for further information.