Skin cancer: Early detection the key

WITH summer sun still at its peak and the beaches open, taking care of your skin should be one of your biggest priorities. According to Cansa, there are about 20000 reported cases of skin cancer and 700 deaths annually but skin cancer related deaths can be avoided if a few basic rules about protecting yourself against sun exposure are followed.

As with all cancers, prevention is better than cure and early detection will improve the success of treatment, says Dr Dominique Stott, of PPS.

"Therefore, taking the necessary precautionary measures by using adequate protection and avoiding the use of tanning beds is crucial to reduce the risk of skin cancer," she says.

Effective sun protection is always advisable says Stott and even when you have a dark or olive skin tone, the South African sun is so strong that protection is still needed.

"Risk factors for all skin cancers include; fair skin or eyes, freckles and moles, history of sunburn with blistering in childhood and prolonged unprotected exposure to the sun as an adult. Any of these risk factors mean that effective sunscreen (factor 30 or above) and protective clothing needs to be used, regardless of your age.

"It is important to remember that reflected sunlight from water surfaces can cause significant sunburn even when not exposed directly to sunlight."

Stott adds that sun bed tanning is particularly dangerous especially for malignant melanoma due to the type of UV radiation they emit.

"Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous forms of skin cancer and can be fatal. These are more likely to develop in fair-skinned individuals with poor tanning ability, especially those with many moles or a history of other skin cancers."

She says anyone who has a personal or family history of melanoma or has had other skin cancers, or has had intermittent intense exposure, must have an annual checkup with their doctor. If there are any changes in a mole such as darkening, bleeding or ulceration it must be examined immediately.

Annual skins checks with a dermatologist are recommended in order to pick up any irregular growths or lesions. According to Cansa, those with more than 50 moles or who have a family history of skin cancer are encouraged to go for skin screenings on a regular basis.

Dr Stott says that even though there are some rare forms of skin cancer that cannot be detected early, most skin cancers can be found early and treated accordingly. "Early detection of cancer will improve the success of treatment."

She says any existing moles that have changed in colour or size, start ulcerating or bleeding, or grow nodules should be regarded as suspicious and seen by a dermatologist immediately. "In addition to this, any newly developed darkly pigmented skin lesion must also be investigated. People of all ages are at risk and melanomas in young people have been known to occur."