I’ve recently started working in the cancer department of my local hospital. Although I never talk to patients, I’ve managed to learn some new facts about cancer in passing. I’ve been inspired to write this out-of-character article as a result, and my hospital also recently held a skin cancer event on the beach. What they did was they set up a tent and some equipment on the beach, and people were thus able to learn about skin cancer. The nurses would also have a look at the moles and freckles on people’s skin, to make sure they all looked normal. What a great way to raise awareness about skin cancer, and diagnose people early so they can stop the spread of it!
I’m no doctor, so if you would like to learn more about cancer, check out the NHS website. Most of this stuff is information you’d learn anyway, at school or otherwise. But allow me to explain briefly what cancer basically is. Cancer is a non-contagious (that means you can’t catch it from somebody, like you can a cold or a stomach bug) disease. A cancerous tumour is a group of weird (or abnormal) cells that develop, and eventually can spread to the rest of the body. This is called metastases – cancer usually starts in one place, and if you can catch it before it spreads, you have a better chance of surviving it.
One of the most common cancers is lung cancer, especially because of the rise in smoking. Tobacco is very, very bad for a person indeed, and over 80% of lung cancer cases are due to tobacco smoke. Unfortunately, even if you don’t smoke, if you live with someone who does (inside the house and around you), it increases your risk. You can still get lung cancer even if you’ve never smoked, but not smoking reduces the risk massively. Exposure to substances like asbestos (something they used to use in building work, until they discovered it caused cancer) and other pollution might also increase the risk, as you’re breathing it in, so it gets into your lungs.
Skin cancer is also very common. It is usually caused by too much exposure to sunlight, especially if you don’t protect yourself adequately. We all love the feeling of the sun on our backs, but the UVA and UVB rays can be very dangerous to us. Keeping your skin covered from the sun helps greatly, as it blocks the rays from hitting your skin. Doing this isn’t always possible, however, so follow this advice from Australia – Slip on a t-shirt (to cover your shoulders, which are much more exposed to the sun), Slap on a hat (your scalp burns too, and you can’t put suncream on it! Unless you don’t have any hair, in which case you should definitely wear a hat), and slop on some suncream. Use factor 30 plus if you’re pale-skinned, and make sure to reapply it very frequently, so you don’t lose any sun protection.
If you have a mole on your arm, you can inspect it yourself using the ABCDE method, which will help you decide whether to see a doctor about it. A stands for asymmetry, which means if you draw a line through it the sides won’t look the same. B is for borders, or the edges of the mole. A normal mole has smooth edges, but a melanoma (common form of skin cancer) will have wonky and ill-defined edges. C means colour – a normal mole will be pretty much an even colour, but if it changes colour or has more than one colour, get it checked. D is for diameter, because most moles aren’t any bigger than the rubber on top of your pencil. If it is bigger or starts growing rapidly, ask your doctor for advice. Finally, E stands for evolving, which means if a mole changes in any way – especially if it starts to bleed or itch.
You shouldn’t worry too much – you’re young, and it’s extremely unlikely you will get either of these cancers yet. However, it’s useful info for the future, and now you know these warning signs you can be alert for both yourself and members of your family!
Image credit: http://northbarandkitchen.co.uk/blog/cancer-research-uk-charity-event/