Photo project puts cancer in the frame

IT may have been one of the wettest months on record, but that has not stopped researchers in the Capital starting work on a new project to increase skin cancer awareness.

As cases continue to soar, largely as a result of sunbed use and sunny foreign holidays, a team from Edinburgh University is scouring the internet to access images of malignant melanoma – the most dangerous form of the disease – and a study is under way to find out whether the new pictures will help detect the signs of cancer earlier.

Project leader Professor Jonathan Rees said that the same three or four images were widely used to promote awareness of the disease and that making a wider selection of pictures available to the public could save lives by 
helping more people recognise the early stages of skin cancer. The project has been funded by Tesco in partnership with its charity of the year, Cancer Research UK.

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James Coxson, from Inverleith, was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma last year and gave his backing to the research project, saying if more images had been available he would have had the small painless brown mark which appeared on his right cheek looked at sooner.

“I think this initiative is a wonderful thing,” the 56-year-old said. “About two years ago I noticed the mark on my cheek, but the thought of skin cancer never entered my head.

“If I’d seen a leaflet about skin cancer or a photograph of what an abnormality might look like, I think I would have got it checked out sooner.”

Cases of skin cancer have risen dramatically in recent years. Last year, it emerged that five new patients in the Lothians were being diagnosed with skin cancer every day, with middle-aged and elderly men particularly at risk.

Mr Coxson, a freelance curator and teacher of art and music, said that while he had never used a sunbed or been to many hot countries, he was told that his pale skin had made him more susceptible to skin cancer.

“It scared me that I could be carrying something like that without any obvious signs,” he said. “I heard about a lady who had the same thing as me but on her hand.

“She didn’t want to bother her doctor, then she was scared of going, and she died. It made me think how unnecessary it was. I do think the five-minute appointment with the doctor saved my life.”

Cancer Research UK spokeswoman for Scotland Linda Summerhayes warned that people should remember to take precautions when the sun does eventually come out.

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She said: “We hear stories of people spending hours in the sun desperate to catch the rays when they do eventually appear, but this comes at a price. As well as the pain that getting sunburnt can cause, it’s also a sign that your skin has been irreversibly damaged, which can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer.”