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The world’s most common cancer, is also the most preventable. Cut your skin cancer risk and survive the season unscathed.
Summer’s seasonal swing masks the return of the perfect sun-touched trifecta of beers, boardies and braais. But, while that quality time outdoors is doing wonders for your stress levels, the ramped-up sun exposure is increasing your skin cancer risk. You’ve heard the heated warnings for years, and by now, you’re probably ignoring them.
However, SA has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, according to the Council for Medical Schemes. It’s dangerous, deadly and all too common, but it’s also one of the most preventable cancers out there. Read on to brush up on your knowledge and lower your risk right now.
Skin Cancer Types:
There are two main categories of skin cancer; non-melanoma and melanoma. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) and Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) are the two types of non-melanoma skin cancer. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), non-melanoma skin cancer is four times more common than malignant melanoma (MM) in South Africa. While malignant melanoma may be less common, it can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early enough.
Skin Cancer Signs:
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Typically found on skin that has been subjected to years of sun exposure. This is why SCC commonly shows up on areas exposed to sun, such as the neck, head and hands. However, you can get SCC on any body part, including those that aren’t expose to the sun, such as inside the mouth and the genitals, reports CANSA.
According to Dr. Karen Koch, a specialist dermatologist at Donald Gordon Hospital, signs of SCC are solid pink bumps or patches that may develop sores or ulcers in the centre.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
The most prevalent form of skin cancer in South Africa. BCC’s most often develop on the face and other sun-exposed areas, but like Squamous Cell Carcinoma they can appear anywhere on the body. Koch says you should look out for raised, translucent and shiny bumps that might crust or develop ulcers or sores at the centre. Malignant Melanoma (MM), the most dangerous of three types of skin cancer, occurs when damaged skin cells multiply to create malignant tumours.
According to Koch, you should be vigilant of moles, skin-spots and freckles. Signs of melanoma include small brown or black lumps or larger multi-coloured patches that have an uneven outline that may bleed or crust, warns Koch.
Skin Tone Risk Factor:
“In general, the fairer your skin- the higher your risk of developing BCC, SCC and melanoma”, explains Koch. But this does not mean that having tanned skin protects you or lowers your risk of skin cancer. Tanning comes from UV rays penetrating the skin and stimulating pigment producing cells. This means tanned skin arises because the proper precautionary measures, such as sun cream, have not been utilised. “There is no such thing as a safe tan,” according to Koch.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the risk of each type of skin cancer differs from one race to the next. Fairer-skinned people are usually more at risk for Malignant Melanoma (MM) whilst darker-skinned people are more at risk for Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM), one of the leading causes of skin cancer deaths, CANSA reports.
So whilst darker skin tones do have a natural Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of about 10, this natural SPF is not high enough to protect you against skin cancer. Simply put, each skin has it’s own differing risks for different types of skin cancer; the only constant is that without proper care, you greatly increase your chance of getting skin cancer.
Precaution and Prevention
Koch recommends that you choose a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30 or above. Research sunscreens, and opt for a more expensive one if you have the budget (the price tag often indicates more powerful sun-stopping chops). But sunscreen does not have to be expensive in order to be effective of the best for you.
“The best sunscreen to use is the one you actually use and using the correct amount of sunscreen and applying regularly is as important as the SPF”, says Koch.
But it’s not just sunscreen that you should be using to prevent skin cancer. According to Koch, these are some lesser known or overlooked protection measures:
- Wear UV resistant sunglasses. They protect your eyes and the skin around your eyes.
- Apply topical vitamin C and E. This works in conjunction with sunscreen to reduce the risk of further UV damage.
- Stop Smoking. A 2012 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that smoking doubles your risk of developing Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC).
- Peel it off. You can reverse some sun damage by the doing skin treatments such as deep peels but they shouldn’t be seen as an alternative to proper skin care.
- Take oral medication. If you are participates in outdoor activities such as cycling or marathons, dermatologists recommend medication that reduces the risk of burning, in addition to sunscreen.
5 Self- Examination Checks Each Man Should Do:
Did you know that sixty percent of melanomas are first detected by patients themselves making regular self-examinations life-saving. Perhaps ask a woman to check as research has shown women are nine times more likely to spot melanomas on others. Koch recommends the ABCDE rule when checking yourself:
- Asymmetry- a mole that is not round and symmetrical.
- Border unevenness- borders that are not smooth, defined and even.
- Colour difference- any colour that is not brown or black.
- Diameter- anything that grows or is larger than 5mm.
- Elevation or Evolution- A mole that is raised or changes that happen over time.
If you notice any of the above signs, you should see a doctor immediately. “All South Africans should be aware of their risk of skin cancer and take steps to prevent it,” says Koch. This summer, if you protect your skin, know your body and go for regular skin cancer screenings, you can greatly decrease your chance of getting South African’s most common but preventable cancer.
Read more here: Men