Under the skin: council launches project to tackle skin cancer
Posted on: 1 July 2014
A major project to reduce the number of people in Devon affected by skin cancer starts this month and coincides with the launch of Public Health England’s Be Clear on Cancer campaign in Devon, Somerset and Cornwall to raise awareness of skin cancer and emphasise that a change to a mole isn’t the only sign of the disease.
Devon has some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the UK, with almost 3,000 new cases per year in Devon. Malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is the second most common cancer in the 15 – 34 year old age range. Rates in all ages have more than quadrupled in the last 40 years.
However, up to 80% of skin cancers could be prevented through practising sun safety and avoiding sunburn.
The project, funded by Devon County Council’s Public Health Team and led by Westbank Community Health and Care, aims to increase the knowledge of skin cancer, and encourage people to protect themselves, spot the signs and seek early diagnosis.
Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council’s Cabinet Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “In Devon we are fortunate to have a relatively reduced risk of developing life limiting diseases such as cancers. However our rates of skin cancer are above the national average. Detecting it early can save lives, so we are asking people to tell their doctor if they notice any persistent or unusual changes to their skin.
“We are supporting the Be Clear on Cancer campaign as part of our work to increase people’s awareness of the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and encourage them to follow up any concerns with their doctor. This will enhance the work we are also doing to encourage people to protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays.”
Run by Westbank Community Health & Care, the project is volunteer-led by people who have experienced skin cancer themselves. Building on the success of a two- year project funded by the Department of Health, Westbank is looking to recruit more volunteer champions from across Devon to help spread the message.
Joy Harvey, Westbank’s Skin Cancer Awareness Champions Project Co-ordinator, said: “We’re looking for more volunteers to help with the project, who have had some experience of skin cancer and are willing to spread the message about the importance of prevention and spotting the signs early.
“The time commitment can be as much or as little as they are able to give. Expenses will be covered, and training will be provided. Experience has shown us that hearing from somebody who has first-hand experience of skin cancer has a powerful and lasting impact on people.”
The project will take the form of a year-long education programme delivering awareness sessions to young people in Devon through schools and colleges, and to older people and outdoor workers in small groups within the community.”
The County Council is rolling out the project as part of the Public Health England ‘Be Clear on Cancer’ campaign, which launched yesterday.
The main message of the campaign, which includes radio and press adverts and posters in GP surgeries , pharmacies and public buildings such as leisure centres, is that a change to a mole isn’t the only sign of skin cancer and that if people notice any unusual or persistent changes to their skin they should go to their doctor.
The campaign leaflet also highlights that anyone can develop skin cancer but those with lots of moles or freckles, fair skin that burns easily, red or fair hair, light-coloured eyes, a history of sunburn or a personal or family history of skin cancer are more at risk. In addition, it also explains that while you can develop skin cancer at any age, those aged 50 or over are more likely to get it.
The leaflet also reminds people that avoiding sunburn will reduce their chances of getting skin cancer.
Tracey Fey is a volunteer working with Westbank to help raise awareness of the disease.
Always having been sporty and a keen cyclist, at times when she was younger, she got badly sun-burned. Tracey was diagnosed with skin cancer in her 30s.
“I noticed that one of my freckles on my face was a slightly different colour than the other ones,” said Tracey.
“It kept niggling at me every time I looked in the mirror and then I thought it was getting bigger. I thought it may be skin cancer, and ignored it for about three months, before I asked my friend what she thought. She agreed it didn’t look right and so I booked an appointment with my GP straight away.
Tracey’s GP removed the freckle straight away, and following a biopsy she had a further section of skin removed, which confirmed a basal cell carcinoma – a skin cancer tumour that spreads in situ rather than through the body.
Tracey said: “They explained it was treatable but unfortunately needed to take more skin away as they hadn’t got it all. This happened three times before they decided I needed major surgery to remove the tumour which had spread more than previously thought. After the fourth round of surgery I had to have a skin graft to cover the area where the tumour had been removed. It was a very painful process and now I have a horrible scar from the corner of my eye, down to the corner of my mouth.
“Being told you have skin cancer is very scary. It’s made worse because the damage that causes the cancer can be done up to 20 years before it shows itself, so I feel helpless as there could be more tumours lurking under the surface and there’s nothing I can do about it. I was diagnosed with a second tumour which was removed from my forehead earlier this year. Now I feel like a ticking time bomb, and that feeling will never go away. I’m reminded every morning when I look in the mirror and see my scars.”
Tracey’s advice is to enjoy the sun but to avoid the mid-day sun, cover up, wear good quality sun cream and check out anything unusual.
“I would urge anyone who has an unusual freckle or patch of skin that won’t heal to keep checking it regularly to spot any changes and to visit their GP. Both of my tumours looked totally different so it’s important to check your skin regularly. Early detection of skin cancer can increase survival rates of malignant melanoma and reduce the spread of basal cell carcinoma.”
Westbank has produced a short film available on YouTube called Value Your Skin:Community