Lancaster woman speaks out after beating skin cancer

Karen Byrne and husband Arthur are supporting the #suncreamselfie campaign.
Karen Byrne and husband Arthur are supporting the #suncreamselfie campaign.
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A Lancaster woman has spoken out about the importance of using suncream to support a campaign aiming to cut skin cancer rates.

Karen Byrne, 45, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2003, and has since had around 30 moles removed.

She is backing a campaign by North West Cancer Research to encourage people to use suncream.

An independent regional survey has revealed that 88 per cent of people in Lancashire are unaware of the early warning signs of skin cancer despite the region’s high skin cancer rates.

The survey was commissioned by North West Cancer Research, as part of its awareness campaign encouraging people to stay safe in the sun this summer.

Results show that almost one third of those surveyed revealed they have never checked their skin for signs of skin cancer, despite 75 per cent admitting to having been sunburned.

The survey also revealed that around one in five people in the region don’t use sun cream when it’s sunny in the UK, preferring to only use sun cream when abroad.

Finally, 54 per cent revealed they have used a sunbed, four per cent more than the north west average. Alarmingly, 95 per cent of sunbed users are aware of the skin cancer risks associated, and still choose to use them.

The latest regional statistics show that 748 people in Lancashire were diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer between 2011 and 2013. Nationally, incidence rates for melanoma skin cancer are projected to rise by seven per cent in the UK between 2014 and 2035.

North West Cancer Research launched its #suncreamselfie awareness campaign this month to help tackle these rising rates and encourage people to think about covering up before they head out in the sun.

It is urging people all over the north west to get creative when applying sun cream, take a selfie and upload it to social media with the hash tag #suncreamselfie.

CEO Alastair Richards said: “By raising awareness of skin cancer, its symptoms and the associated risk factors of over exposure to UV rays, we hope we can encourage people to stay safe in the sun and reduce the number of skin cancer cases in Lancashire and across the north west.”

The #suncreamselife campaign will educate people about the early warning signs of skin cancer and the importance of visiting their GP as soon as they have any concerns.

Dr Sarah Allinson, a skin cancer researcher based at Lancaster University, said: “It is important to remember that over exposure to harmful UV rays can potentially lead to skin cancer, which is why people should be sensible when spending time in the sun, both abroad and here in the UK.

“Skin cancer is a major cancer killer in the UK, but if it is caught early enough then as with all cancers, patients can have a good prognosis. Changes in your moles, as well as the appearance of new moles and skin blemishes, are potential markers of skin cancer. Get to know your skin and make sure you check it regularly for any changes.

“The ABCDE method of checking is an easy rule to remember when checking your skin. It stands for:

Asymmetry: does the mole look uneven or misshapen

Border: is the edge of the mole blurred?

Colour: is it a mix of shades, has your mole darkened since the last time you checked?

Diameter: is it bigger than 6mm?

Elevation or enlargement: has it changed in shape or become raised above the skin’s surface?

“You should always also look out for itching, bleeding and crusting and contact your GP straight away if you spot these symptoms, who will usually refer you to a skin specialist.”

Visit North West Cancer Research’s #suncreamselfie campaign page to find out more or share your own #suncreamselfie using the hashtag.

KAREN’S STORY

After spending 15 years in and out of hospital with skin cancer, Karen Byrne is passionate about helping North West Cancer Research raise awareness of the disease.

Karen, 45, from Lancaster, was diagnosed with malignant melanoma (a form of skin cancer) in 2003, after noticing a tiny black mole on her lower leg.

It was only after briefly mentioning it during a visit to her GP with her son who had chickenpox that she was called back in for a biopsy, which later revealed it was malignant melanoma.

Very shortly afterwards Karen underwent surgery at Royal Preston Hospital to remove part of the skin and muscle on her lower leg and the extent of her treatment meant she couldn’t put her foot down for nine weeks.

Karen has since had two further malignant melanomas removed, one from her back and one from her leg on the line of the scar where the original mole had been removed.

She has had an estimated 30 further moles removed as a precaution, from her legs, arms, face and back, and continues to have regular check-ups with her GP.

She said: “Being told that I had skin cancer when I was only 30 and then spending the last 15 years in and out of hospital has been really difficult, but I have been lucky enough to receive, and continue to receive, expert treatment and advice from the Royal Lancaster Infirmary and Royal Preston Hospital.

“Skin cancer is a particularly scary form of cancer as it can appear anywhere on your body and spread quickly if left untreated, and this is something I have been trying to highlight to my friends and family.

“Since my diagnosis, I encouraged my father to have his moles examined by his GP and he was diagnosed with two malignant melanoma which were quickly removed from his chest. This shows how important it is that we are aware of what to look for and regularly check our skin.”

Following her diagnosis Karen decided to swap her job on the front desk at a police station to become a personal trainer, something she had always wanted to do.

She now owns her own company, Bowerham ABC Boxing and Fitness, with her husband Arthur, where they train all ages, levels and abilities.

The couple take any opportunity to raise awareness of the disease and promote sun safety at the gym, as well as raise money for cancer research.

Karen and Arthur will support North West Cancer Research’s #suncreamselfie campaign this summer to help raise awareness of skin cancer, its symptoms and the importance of sun protection.

Karen added: “Skin cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers in the north west and having had it myself, I know how lifechanging the disease can be.

“There are lots of factors which can cause it, some of which are preventable.

“In my case, I wasn’t a regular user of sunbeds and I had only burnt occasionally when I was younger, but my fair skin meant that I was more susceptible to the disease.

“Being more aware of the measures we can take to protect ourselves from getting skin cancer is really important, especially in the UK, which is why we’ll be slapping on the sun cream this summer, sharing our selfies and encouraging our friends and families to do the same.”