Limiting sun exposure is the first step to protect yourself from skin cancer. File photo/AFP
“With new statistics from the UK showing a rise in skin cancer rates over the last decade, it is vital that people learn how to protect themselves, in addition to having their skin screened on a regular basis. It is also important to identify certain symptoms of skin cancer, so that you can take action before it’s too late,” says Dr Ali Razzak – Family Medicine Consultant and Aesthetics Expert at Aesthetics by King’s College Hospital Dubai.
“In the UAE, statistics show that the rates of skin cancer are lower than anywhere else. But these figures don’t mean you are safe just because you are living in this region; you still need to protect yourself by taking the necessary precautions,’’ adds Dr Razzak speaking to Panorama.
Dr Ali Razzak – Family Medicine Consultant and Aesthetics Expert at King’s College Hospital Dubai.
What is skin cancer?
Cancer in general is the abnormal multiplication of cells beyond their normal control to a point where they overgrow and cause problems. These cells can also metastasise, which means going from one part of the body to another. Cancer itself can affect any type of cell in the body. Skin cancer on the other hand is a cancer that specifically affects the skin.
Who is at risk of developing skin cancer?
Although anybody can contract skin cancer, some people have a lower risk of developing the disease than others. For instance, people of Middle-Eastern heritage have generally an olive type of skin or Mediterranean type of skin, which makes their risk of developing skin cancer significantly lower than people who may come from Western Europe where they have a Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2 which is lighter.
On the other hand, people with darker skin of perhaps Fitzpatrick skin type 4 or 5, who are mostly of Indian or African heritage, have a significant lower risk of developing skin cancer because the melanocytes, which are the cells that produce melanin, can protect the skin from harmful radiation of the sun.
What are the causes of skin cancer?
The cause of most skin cancers is skin damage from the sun. About 9/10 non-melanoma skin cancers and 6/10 melanomas are caused by excessive exposure to the sun. Besides, if a person is on a type of medication that suppresses his/her immune system, then that can increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Also, by bleaching your skin, you are causing damage and trauma and that may lead to skin problems like irritation and possible skin cancer. There is not enough research regarding bleaching and skin cancer, but if you don't have enough melanin to protect yourself from the harmful rays of the sun.
How can signs of skin cancer be recognised?
Melanoma is the type of skin cancer doctors frequently tell people to look out for. For instance, if you are concerned about a mole or when we ask a patient to do mole mapping, it’s the melanomas we're keeping an eye on. There are five different features of a melanoma that we're concerned about – if it looks asymmetrical, it can be a sign of something more sinister like skin cancer.
If the colour of the melanoma is irregular this could be another concerning feature. Also, if the mole is growing in size, and changing in shape and colour, or if it starts to bleed or itch then it is a worrying sign.
What are the protective measures to be taken?
We should aim to limit our exposure to the sun. This might be more of a challenge particularly if you're living in a hot country like the UAE where the sun is quite strong throughout the year. It's advisable to stay indoors when the sun is at its maximum strength, which is between 11am and 3pm.Try to cover up your body as much as you can when you're out in the sun, for instance wearing wide-brimmed hat. If you're out in the sun, make sure you put on a high factor sunscreen prior to going out. It is important that you apply it at least 20 minutes before going out.
Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen. People with fair skin should be using a sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor of 50+ and should also reapply after an hour or so because the effects start reducing after that period. Avoid tanning bed/machines. There's a lot of evidence that shows tanning beds can lead to skin cancer.
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