Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, but thankfully it is also the most easily preventable and highly curable if detected early enough. There are three major types of skin cancer and these are: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. BCC and SCC occur most often and, while they are malignant, they are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body. A smaller percentage of skin cancers are malignant melanomas which are highly aggressive and tend to spread, making it the most deadly of the three.
The majority of skin cancers are caused by the sun. Too much of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation damages the body’s skin cells which can cause them to mutate, which in turn can result in cancer. Just one bad burn in childhood more than doubles your chances of getting skin cancer later on in life. Scary thought. As well as the sun, tanning booths are also very dangerous and you should be especially careful if you have fair skin, fair hair and light eyes.
The warning signs
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is an alteration in the appearance of the skin, whether it is a sore that won’t heal or a new growth. This is why it’s important to keep an eye on your skin and know your moles, freckles, blemishes and marks so that you can spot the change, should something go wrong. You should be especially diligent if you have a lot of moles, unusual moles or large moles, as malignant melanomas can grow from these. Early signs of melanoma are changes to the shape or colour of an existing mole and the guide “ABCD” can help you identify early signs:
Asymmetry – one side does not look like the other side
Colour – the mole is a mixture of black, tan, brown, blue, red or white
Diameter – larger than 6mm across
If you notice any of these signs, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible.
Because skin cancer is visible, self examination is the first step to self preservation. You should examine your skin every month and ask a friend or family member to help with those hard to see places.
• Stand in a well-lit room with a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror.
• Check your chest, abdomen, legs and arms.
• Remember to examine the sides of your body as well.
• Check the back of your legs, shoulders, neck and back with the hand-held mirror. This is where you can ask a friend or family member to help.
• Don’t forget your feet. This includes the soles and in between the toes!
Here’s a scary statistic for you: 80 percent of skin damage happens before the age of 18. On the bright side however, it has been estimated that 75 percent of skin cancer can be prevented with sufficient skincare during childhood alone. Prevention is better than cure so it’s important that you always wear sunscreen, stay in the shade and keep covered up with protective clothing as well as a wide brimmed hat and UV-protected sunglasses.