Tommy Burns tells of skin cancer battle - and how ignorance can kill

THE Celtic legend Tommy Burns yesterday said he was hopeful he is winning his battle with skin cancer as he backed calls for greater awareness of the disease.

Two months ago, the Celtic coach and Scotland assistant manager revealed he was having treatment for malignant melanoma - the most deadly form of skin cancer - after being diagnosed last year.

Since undergoing a second operation, all the checks had been clear of cancer. But he said the shadow of the disease was still hanging over him, as it had already returned once and could do so again.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Burns, 49, spoke about his battle as the charity Cancer Research UK launched its SunSmart campaign to raise awareness of the risks of too much sun.

He admitted that, like the majority of Scots men, he was ignorant of the risks and the signs of skin cancer.

"It started with a mole on my leg, which I have had since I was very young - it was just like a big freckle. Then, more recently, it started to get bigger and darker in colour, but I didn't see any reason to go and see anyone about it.

"Only when it started to itch and get blistery did I go and see a doctor," he said.

Mr Burns said one of the biggest concerns was the thickness of the mole. "It was two or three times the thickness of a normal melanoma, apparently. That was the thing that was really worrying," he said.

"I had surgery to remove it, but then it came back seven months later further up my leg and I had to have more surgery. At this moment in time, all the tests have proved to be clear. But, with melanoma, it could come back again.

"It's difficult, but at the end of the day you do need to get on with it and stay hopeful. I think you push it to the back of your mind and try not to think too much about it coming back.

"I live a normal life as much as possible, but just stay out of the sunshine or cover up."

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mr Burns said that people in Scotland were often ignorant of the risks of skin cancer, and more needed to be done to raise awareness.

"A year ago, I didn't know what malignant melanoma meant," he admitted. "To be honest, even after the first time I went to the specialist and he told me what it was, I was just thinking it was something on my skin. But it is actually something happening under the skin as well. So, I was ignorant of it as well, not so much now but in the past."

Red-headed, fair-skinned people like Mr Burns face a higher risk of skin cancer from the sun.

He said he believed short bursts of sunshine when people head off on holiday could put fair-skinned people at risk. "In football, you tend to go away somewhere hot for the first two weeks of June and get a lot of sun, but that is not good," he said.

Cancer Research UK revealed that the number of men who die from melanoma in the UK has exceeded 1,000 a year for the first time - a 31 per cent increase in a decade.

In 2004, there were 1,777 deaths from melanoma - 1,002 of them in men. But a survey of 2,000 men by the charity found that many were unaware of the risks.

Almost 60 per cent said they never checked their backs - where skin cancer often occurs - to look at existing moles or new ones that have appeared.

Seven out of ten did not think they were at risk of skin cancer, even though a third admitted to having been sunburned, and 30 per cent said they would not go to the doctor if they noticed any changes in their moles.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

• For more information on staying safe in the sun, go to

Knowing the risks and spotting the signs

FACTORS which put people at higher risk of skin cancer include being fair-skinned with freckles, having red or fair hair and having a large number of moles on your body.

Babies and young children also need to take extra care because their skin is delicate and easily damaged.

Cancer Research UK says people should also be aware of the symptoms of skin cancer by watching for changes in their skin. A suspect mole may have a blurred or jagged edge, it may be uneven in colour or be more than one shade.

Other signs of skin cancer include a new growth or sore that will not heal, a spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts and a mole or growth that bleeds or scabs.

Any rapid changes in skin should be checked by a doctor straight away.