Weighing it up – Skin cancer

01 August 2014 | Blog
Weighing it up – Skin cancer

Life’s all about striking the right balance – whether it is profit and quality or work and family. So, this summer holiday try to find equilibrium between topping up on that essential vitamin D and protecting yourself from those harmful UV rays.       

As a dentist, your professional life is all about caring for the wellbeing of your patients; with prevention and the maintenance of their oral health at the heart of what you do. But, when you lay down your sterilised tools, tear off those disposable gloves and take off the single-use mask to jet off to the sunshine, how good are you at abiding by the rules when it comes to protecting your own health?

With summer finally here, dreams of weeks spent on a sun-drenched beach are a reality. It’s now time to unwind, escape the rigours of everyday life and spend long, lazy days with our loved ones.

Happily, sunlight is an essential source of vitamin D (the ‘sunshine vitamin’) so, while you’re catching some rays this summer, you will also be: 
• Maintaining blood levels of calcium and phosphorus
• Helping the body absorb calcium to form and maintain strong bones
• Improving bone health and decreasing the risk of fractures
• Protecting against osteoporosis, high blood pressure, cancer and other diseases

Also very recently, researchers have found that people with very low levels of vitamin D appear to be at higher risk of death from many causes (including cancer) and say that vitamin D could play an important role in cancer prognosis. 

The main source of vitamin D is from the sun. However, differing weather conditions mean this can have little impact if we remain in a country not so blessed with regular sunny days.

Nina Goad, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “The time required to make sufficient vitamin D varies according to a number of environmental, physical and personal factors, but it is typically short, and less than the amount of time needed for the skin to redden and burn.

“Enjoying the sun safely, while taking care not to burn, can help to provide the benefits of vitamin D without unduly raising the risk of skin cancer. Vitamin D supplements and specific foods can help to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D, particularly in people at risk of deficiency.

“However, there is still a lot of uncertainty around what levels qualify as ‘optimal’ or ‘sufficient’; how much sunlight different people need to achieve a given level of vitamin D; whether vitamin D protects against chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes; and the benefits and risks of widespread supplementation.”

Naturally occurring vitamin D is rare in our diet but is present mainly in fatty fish and cod liver oil. Interestingly, many countries have introduced supplements into foods such as flour, breakfast cereals, milk and margarine.

More relevant, perhaps, to male dentists, is a study of chronic widespread pain by the University of Manchester that used data on 3,369 men in the European Male Ageing Study. Lead researcher Paul McCabe noted: “Musculoskeletal pain is a recognised symptom of severe vitamin D deficiency states such as osteomalacia.” And we are all aware of the increased prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders in dentists.

Ultraviolet rays
It doesn't take too much time in the sun for us to top up on the vitamin D we lack, and the flipside of all this sunshine is its risk to our skin. Repeated unprotected exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays can cause eye damage, immune system suppression, and skin cancer. Even people in their twenties can develop skin cancer; with melanoma thought to be associated with severe UVB sunburns that may occur even before the age of 20.

The facts speak for themselves. Statistics from Cancer Research UK show that:

  • 13,348 people were diagnosed with melanoma in the UK in 2011 
  • Around 2,200 people died from malignant melanoma in 2011 in the UK, that's around 6 every day 
  • The number of people being diagnosed with malignant melanoma now is more than five times higher than it was 40 years ago 

It is important to understand the difference between the two main categories of skin cancer – melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma (also known as 'malignant melanoma') is less common than non-melanoma cancers, but is the most dangerous. Non-melanoma skin cancers are mainly comprised of 'Basal Cell Carcinoma' (BCC) and 'Squamous Cell Carcinoma' (SCC). BCC is the most common and the least dangerous.

It is also important to be aware that the risk of melanoma is directly related to your skin type and that concentrated sun exposure is more of a risk than being in the sun for part of the day all year round. Therefore, those working in an office or a surgery – with most days of the year spent indoors – run a higher risk of melanoma than those with outdoor occupations. Even those who take part in outdoor hobbies are at risk, if they mainly work indoors. People with a higher socioeconomic status, such as dentists, also have a higher risk factor – possible because they are more likely to take their holidays abroad.

In 2013, we paid £13,000 in benefits for dentists who claimed for melanoma and £47,000 for skin tumours alone. Cancer in general also made up 16% of all women’s claims paid and 10% of men’s in 2013.  

In 2012, one member, a practice owner in his 40s, found a couple of moles that were diagnosed as malignant melanomas. He underwent treatment and received £5,000 while he had to have almost eight weeks off work, as he underwent various rounds of diagnosis, treatment and surgery to remove them.

Bryan Gross, head of our underwriting and claims team said: “In our experience, our members, as dental professionals, are acutely aware of the importance of health risk management when it comes to the oral health of their patients. However, over the last five years we have had nearly 15 claims for skin tumours and melanomas amounting to nearly £200,000 claims paid, so it is important that dentists remember to look after themselves too.”

So, as we grab some rays during these summer months, it is important to follow in the footsteps of our friends Down Under and ‘slip, slop, slap’.

The iconic campaign – that ran in Australia during the 1980s – changed a mindset of a nation and many fair-skinned residents born in the country were made acutely aware of the essentials of slipping on a shirt, slopping on the 30+ sunscreen and slapping on a hat.

References available on request.

This article is intended for information only. It is not designed to give financial or medical advice, nor is it intended to make any recommendations of the suitability of our plans for a particular individual. Full details of our contract can be found in our rules on our website www.dentistsprovident.co.uk. Dentists’ Provident Society Limited does not accept liability and responsibility for changes made to this information. Some of the information in this article has been obtained from third parties. While we believe the information to be reliable; we make no representations as to its accuracy and accept no responsibility or liability for any error, omission or inaccuracy in the data supplied by any third party.

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