We all know about skin cancer and protecting our faces and bodies from the sun, but how much do we really know about keeping our scalps free from developing melanomas - and how proactive are we when it comes to protecting this part of our body? Although it’s not as regular as skin cancer found on backs (most common spot for men) or the our legs (appearing mostly on women) melanoma found on the scalp still causes skin cancer deaths, and over the last few years this figure has been rising. The good news is that it is preventable and treatable if caught early. Dr Jasmine Just, health information officer at Cancer Research UK gives us a guide to preventing melanomas on the scalp over the summer months ahead:
“You don’t necessarily have to burn to develop cancer, and whether you are tanning, playing tennis outdoors or walking around the shops you are at the same level of risk because your scalp is still exposed to the sun over a long period of time. People think the head is safe as hair can shade the scalp but there are areas such as your parting, your forehead and the crown that are at greater risk than any other part of your body, particularly if you suffer from hair loss. Solar keratosis (in the form of a red rash that is rough to touch) is a common form of skin tissue damage caused by sunlight and an indication that that specific part of the body has received a lot of sun and this area could be at increased risk.
Hair does give some degree of protection against UV rays, but the best way to stay safe in the sun is by being preventative - wear a hat or headscarf (the denser the fabric the better) and choose to be inside during peak sunshine hours – usually from 11am to 3pm in the UK when the sun is the highest in the sky. Although impractical it is worth wearing sunscreen on the parts of your head that are visible to the sun such as your parting, crown of your head, ears and hairline. Make sure your SPF is at least 15 and 4 stars and protects against UVA and UVB. La Roche-Posay Anthelios XL Ulra Light Spray is SPF 50+ and broadspectrum and is light enough for the scalp. Reapply every couple of hours and if you are sweating during a game or swimming outside in a pool or at the beach, you will need to apply more often.”
Use a hand mirror for hard to see areas or get someone to check for you.But if you recognise there is a new spot or a sore that doesn't heal then get it checked out by your GP or pop into The Mole Clinic www.themoleclinic.co.uk. If you have a mole that already exists use this useful ABCDE acronym to help you remember what to look out for:
Asymmetry:A benign mole is not asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle, the two sides will match, meaning it is symmetrical. If you draw a line through this mole, the two halves will not match, meaning it is asymmetrical, a warning sign for melanoma.
Border:A benign mole has smooth, even borders, unlike melanomas. The borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
Colour: Most benign moles are all one colour — often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colours is another warning signal. A number of different shades of brown, tan or black could appear. A melanoma may also become red, white or blue.
Diameter:Benign moles usually have a smaller diameter than malignant ones. Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
Evolution:Common, benign moles look the same over time. Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way. When a mole is evolving, see a doctor. Any change — in size, shape, colour, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.
Dr. Jasmine Just