May is Skin Cancer Month in the United States. Although we live thousands of miles away, learning more about the dangers of skin cancer is very important, especially since we live in a tropical country that is blessed with plenty of sunlight throughout the day.
Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells which usually forms in skin that has been exposed to sunlight although it can also occur anywhere on the body. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is believed to play a significant role in the development of the disease, therefore people who spend more time outdoors should be vigilant and always remember to protect their skin. Many experts agree that some people are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, for example fair-skinned individuals with a history of repeated sunburn and those with blonde or red hair. Moreover, people who live in high-altitude climates and have a family history of skin cancer should also be more cautious as they are particularly prone to the disease.
There are several different types of skin cancer which are divided into two categories; non-melanoma (basal cell and squamos cell skin cancer) and melanoma. While the non-melanoma type usually responds to treatment and rarely spreads to other parts of the body, the melanoma type is known as the deadliest form of skin cancer which can be fatal if it’s not treated early.
The skin is the largest body organ and most of us take good care of it with a range of skincare products. Take note if you find something unusual on your skin and consult a dermatologist immediately if you experience one of these symptoms:
- Basal cell skin cancer usually occurs on sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the neck or face. This type of skin cancer may appear as a pearly or waxed bump or a flat, flesh-coloured or brown scar-like lesion.
- Similar to Basal cell, Squamous cell skin cancer also develops in sun-exposured areas. People with darker skin are more likely to have squamous cell carcinomas in area that aren’t exposed to sun and may appear as a firm, red nodule or a flat lesion with a scaly, crusted surface.
- Melanoma has more complex signs and symptoms than the other two. Unusual moles, sores, lumps, blemishes, markings, or changes in the way skin looks or feels may be a sign of melanoma or another type of skin cancer, or a warning that it might occur. Other symptoms include continuous soreness in particular body parts, spread of pigment on the skin, as well as changes in the surface of a mole.
The good news is that skin cancer is arguably easier to recognize in the early stages and is very preventable. You can still have fun under the sun as long as you remember to incorporate healthy habits to anticipate any skin-related disorders. Especially if you are an outdoor enthusiast, follow these tips to stay healthy without the fear of skin cancer.
- Avoid direct sunlight. UV radiation tends to be at its most harsh between 10am and 4pm so avoid outside activities if it’s possible during these hours. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that you need to hide inside buildings during the day and miss all the joy of the outdoors. Just remember to stay in the shade so that harmful radiation won’t directly hit your skin.
- Sunscreen is your skin’s best friend; apply it every day. Whenever you are planning to go outside, either on sunny or cloudy days, apply sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to your exposed skin and reapply approximately every two hours. Select the sunscreen that provides protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Wear protective clothing. Although it is essential, sunscreen doesn’t provide complete protection from UV rays. When you are outdoors in the middle of the day, it’s wise to cover up with long‐sleeved shirts, pants, as well as a wide‐brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- No tanning beds! Many experts suggest to opt for self-tanning products along with sunscreen if you wish to have glowing, tanned skin. Tanning beds are considered dangerous for your skin; the direct UV light can cause wrinkling, age spots and significantly increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
- Keep newborns out of the sun. Infants are very sensitive to UV radiation, hence vulnerable to skin cancer as just one severe case of sunburn in childhood doubles the chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- Monitor your skin regularly. Be familiar with your skin and be aware of any changes, like new skin spots or moles, or changes in the size, shape or colour of existing spots or moles. You can also detect the early signs of skin cancer by doing self-examinations in front of the mirror routinely. Check your face, neck, ears and scalp, as well as both the fronts and backs of your legs and your feet, including the soles and the spaces between your toes. Take any concerns to your doctor for an evaluation and have your skin examined annually by a dermatologist to check for signs of skin cancer.