Every year around 100,000 people in the UK are newly diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer. These figures make it one of the most common types of cancer in the country. It should perhaps then come as no surprise that the biggest cause of non-melanoma skin cancer is something that we’re exposed to every single day – sunlight.
The dangers of sunlight
This is because sunlight contains harmful ultraviolet light that over time can damage the skin. There are two types of ultraviolet light – ultraviolet light A and ultraviolet light B, often simply referred to as UVA and UVB.
Some people wrongly assume that non-melanoma skin cancer only affects people that have been burnt by the sun. While a history of sunburnt skin does increase the chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer, many people who have never been burnt in their lives can develop the cancer. This is why it’s vital that you limit your exposure to the sun – many experts actually recommend that people avoid the sun altogether if possible.
For many people this is impractical, but it’s strongly recommended that when the sun is at its strongest you take cover. Sunscreen that protects you from both UVA and UVB should also be worn.
Genetic predispositions and risk factors
While sunlight is recognised as the leading cause of non-melanoma skin cancer, there are other factors that come into play. For example, scientific studies have shown that there is likely to be a genetic link when it comes to developing non-melanoma skin cancer.
People with two or more close relatives that have had a form of non-melanoma skin cancer are more at risk of the condition themselves. Other risk factors include having pale skin, red or blonde hair and blue eyes. Skin that has an abundance of moles or freckles is also more at risk. People with one or more of these risk factors should be extra cautious about their exposure to sunlight.
Suppressed immune systems
If you have a condition, such as HIV, or take medicine that suppresses the immune system, you are also at more risk of non-melanoma skin cancers. In fact, Kaposi’s sarcoma is a relatively rare cancer that at one point affected around 1 in 5 people with HIV until medication known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) was introduced.
Types of skin cancer
Other rare non-melanoma skin cancers include cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (also known as Mycosis fungoides) and Merkell cell cancer.
The most common type of non-melanoma skin cancer is by far basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma accounts for around 80% of all cases (around 80,000 diagnoses a year).
Squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for 1 in 10 is another common cancer. Thankfully the outlook for people with these skin cancers is very good – as many as 90% of people with the condition make a full recovery.
However, while non-melanoma skin cancers can be treated effectively prevention is always better than the cure, so it’s wise to take care in the sunlight now to protect yourself in the future.
Written by Kat Kraetzer, an experienced blogger working in the health-care industry for many years