24Hr emergency line +44 (0)20 8476 4099
Join Balpa

Be sun safe: advice from charity Melanoma Focus

by Jane Pennington Melanoma Focus Marketing & Communications Manager

May is #MelanomaAwarenessMonth and as summer begins it’s useful to remind ourselves of the risks of melanoma and how best to avoid them.

Melanoma skin cancer is now the fifth most common form of cancer in the UK with one person in 53 now being diagnosed with this disease during their lifetime. As you may know, airline pilots and cabin crew experience twice the incidence of melanoma compared with the general population and despite the popular aspersion, this isn’t just because you’re sunning yourself downroute.

You may be at greater risk of melanoma if you have:

a large number of moles, a family history of melanoma, a sun-sensitive skin that burns easily or doesn’t tan or regular over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or sunbeds

Prevention is essential:

  • AVOID sunburn
  • Cover up to avoid ‘reddening of the skin’
  • Wear UV protective clothing with long sleeves if possible
  • Wear wrap round sunglasses to protect the eyes
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat
  • Stay in the shade (especially from 1100 to 1500)
  • NEVER use a sunbed

Be aware that aircraft windscreens do not provide full protection from UVA rays. We recommend that when flying in the daytime you:

  • Use a UVA + UVB sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above
  • Apply sunscreen 30 minutes beforehand
  • Be particularly aware of areas that are continuously exposed such as the face, arms, ears or bald head

Knowing your own skin and what’s normal for you can help aid early detection of melanoma. It’s a good idea to:

Create a ‘Mole Map’ and regularly check your skin:

Using a mirror, ruler, camera, notepad – and if necessary a ‘skin buddy’ for those hard-to-see areas.
Check your skin all over once a month and note the date. Record the location, appearance and dimensions of each mole or skin lesion (patch, spot lump or any other abnormal area of skin). Take photos of your moles and any new marks or lesions.

70% of melanomas arise from new marks or lesions

If you see any of your moles or lesions exhibiting the following, be sure to get a skin check:

  • Asymmetry: two halves differ in shape
  • Border: edges irregular or jagged
  • Colour: uneven/patchy; shades of black, white, grey, brown or pink; two or more colours = suspicious
  • Diameter: for most melanomas, at least 6mm
  • Evolving: changing in size, shape or colour
  • Funny: if it looks odd, or you aren’t happy about it for any reason

If in doubt, check it out! That means going to the doctor and making sure you understand the assessment given. If you aren’t happy about it, ask for a second opinion, preferably with a dermatologist. ‘Looks OK’ is not a diagnosis.

86% of melanoma cases are preventable. Prevention is the best possible action for everyone.

Melanoma Focus is the UK’s leading melanoma charity, commissioning and funding research into the treatment and causes of melanoma, while providing support and information for patients, carers and professionals. To find out more about our work please visit www.melanomafocus.com.