Deborah Meaden has credited her makeup artist with spotting a sign of skin cancer, which led to her diagnosis.
The Dragon’s Den star, 63, revealed that before her diagnosis she hadn’t put too much emphasis on sun protection, admitting that while she did put on sunscreen if she was on holiday or going to the beach, she didn’t use it every day.
“I didn’t process [being outside] with the same respect as if I were sunbathing, she told presenter Vogue Williams on Boots’ Taboo Talk podcast.
“I was aware [how much the sun could damage my skin]I’m quite fair skinned but strangely I’ve never been tanned and I think that was a problem for me.
“I kind of thought I was immune to it … I thought I could look fair, but apparently my skin can handle it. So it was a bit of a shock when I realized some damage had been done.”
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Meaden went on to reveal that it was her make-up artist on the BBC show who first noticed a potential sign of skin cancer.
“I was filming Dragon’s Denand I don’t get blemishes, but my makeup artist had noticed what looked like a tiny whitehead that had been on my face for about six weeks, she continued.
“And she kept saying, ‘That’s not right, Deborah’, and I thought, ‘OK, that’s really weird, I don’t usually get spots’. I was going to Africa and I thought before I go I just have to get it checked out.
“So I sent a picture to my doctor, who said it could be something, maybe not, but it could be something. Then he got me an appointment with a local hospital and I went in and they said to me, “You have squamous cell carcinoma.”
According to the NHS, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a type of non-melanoma skin cancer, starts in the cells along the top of the epidermis and accounts for about 20 in every 100 skin cancers.
It often appears as a firm pink lump with a rough or crusted surface, which may feel tender to the touch, bleed easily and may develop into an ulcer.
It can be easily treated when caught early.
Meaden said she had the cancer removed after returning from her trip to Africa and now hopes to raise awareness of the dangers of sun damage, as well as make people aware of some of the signs.
“When I say I was lucky, we caught it incredibly early. I’m evangelical now about telling people, if you have a bit of a weird pimple that won’t go away, don’t just think it’s a pimple,” she added.
“I’ve always looked for moles, I know all the rules about moles, I’ve never looked for anything that actually looked like a whitehead.”
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The founder admits she might never have seen the sign if it weren’t for her makeup artist.
While she is currently “completely free” of skin cancer, apart from a few scaly patches, which are treated with a cream, she has been told she could be at risk of another appearing.
Meaden says she now does everything she can to protect her skin from the sun.
“My prognosis is factor 50, I wear a hat when I’m outside all the time, and watch my skin. If I get something that doesn’t feel right, I don’t just live with it and expect it to go away, I get it checked. I have regular skin checks all over my skin,” she continued.
What is non-melanoma skin cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancers include:
Cancer Research UK says that most non-melanoma skin cancers tend to develop most often on skin that is exposed to the sun.
There is a high cure rate for these cancers, with most diagnosed needing only minor surgery, with no further treatment.
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Around 156,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year, but Cancer Research UK believes the figure could be higher as they are easy to treat and cure. This makes it by far the most common type of cancer.
Earlier this year, it was revealed that cases of skin cancer have reached a record high in England, with around one in five people affected in their lifetime.
There were 224,000 skin cancers in England in 2019 and more than 1.4 million between 2013 and 2019, according to figures analyzed by NHS Digital and the British Association of Dermatologists.
Experts believe an aging population and improvements in how cancer is reported are behind the increase.
Increasing sun exposure and people going on overseas holidays may also be to blame.
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Prevention of non-melanoma skin cancer
Although non-melanoma skin cancer cannot always be prevented, there are some measures you can take to reduce your chance of developing it, including avoiding overexposure to UV light.
The NHS recommends that you protect yourself from sunburn by using high-factor sunscreen, dressing sensibly in the sun and limiting the time you spend in the sun during the hottest part of the day.
They also recommend avoiding sunbeds and sunlamps.
Regularly checking your skin for signs of skin cancer can contribute to an early diagnosis and increase the chance of successful treatment.