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Sun’s out, sunscreen on: Protect yourself against skin cancer this summer

During the summer, many South Africans can be seen flocking to beaches and pools to soak up the sun. But while we enjoy the sun, our skin suffers the harmful effects of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.1-3 That’s why Novartis is shining the spotlight on the importance of protecting your skin’s health and being SunSmart this Skin Cancer Awareness Month.4


Skin cancer is a common type of cancer, especially among Caucasians and individuals with fair skin.5-7 This serious disease can be triggered by exposure to the UV rays present in sunlight and even the artificial lamps of tanning beds, which damage the skin’s DNA and may cause abnormal cell growth.1-3,5-10


“Various forms of skin cancer, such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma, are notably widespread in regions with high sun exposure like South Africa.6,10,11 It’s also critical to understand that people of all races and ethnicities are susceptible to skin cancer and that this disease can be deadly, which is why it’s so important to be vigilant about protecting your skin6,10-12,” emphasizes Dr Darren Katzman, Head of Medical Affairs at Novartis South Africa. 


Identifying the signs of skin cancer


Early diagnosis can significantly improve the treatment prognosis, and skin cancer can even be curable if detected in its early stages.2,6,7,9


The most common types of skin cancers include:


·        Basal cell carcinoma (BCC): This cancer originates in the basal cells found towards

the bottom of the outer skin layer, and usually in sun-exposed areas of the body

such as the face and neck.9,13-15 It can appear as a pink, pearly or skin-colored

bump; white scar-like lesions; pink or reddish skin patches; or bleeding, oozing, and

scabbing sores that don’t heal.13-17


·        Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC): This type of skin cancer originates in the

squamous cells located in the upper part of the skin’s outer layer, and while it can

appear anywhere, it also more commonly affects skin commonly exposed to the

sun.9,13,14, SCC often appears as a thick, scaly patch of skin; a hard, red lump; or a

sore or a scab that doesn’t heal. 9,13,14,18


·        Melanoma: Although less common than BCC or SCC, melanoma is typically

considered a more dangerous form of skin cancer as it tends to spread more

aggressively to other parts of the body.9,13,14,19,20 It begins in the melanocytes,

the cells that produce melanin or the pigment that gives skin its color.9,19,20

Melanoma often appears in the form of a dark spot, new mole, or unusual changes

in an existing mole.9,13,19,20


The ABCDE acronym is a useful tool for learning and remembering the common signs of melanoma:9,20,21


·        Asymmetry – different shapes on either side of the mole or dark spot.9,20,21

·        Border – the sides of the mole or spot are blurry, no longer smooth or have


·        Color – the color is no longer uniform or even, and changes in shade.9,20,21

·        Diameter – the mole or spot has grown larger than a pencil eraser (about six


·        Evolving – the mole or spot is new, or you observe changes in the color, size or

shape of an existing mole.9,20,21

With these signs in mind, perform monthly skin examinations at home and consider consulting a dermatologist once a year to catch any skin cancer while it’s still in its early stages.21-23 If patients note a change in spots or the skin, they should immediately consult a healthcare professional for advice.21-23

Once diagnosed, the treatment options for skin cancer vary depending on the size, type, depth, and location of the lesions.5,9,24 Skin cancers confined to the skin's surface might not even necessitate further intervention beyond an initial skin biopsy to remove the growth if it’s small.7,9,24 

If additional treatment is required, options may include freezing (cryotherapy), where the cancerous area is treated with liquid nitrogen to eliminate the abnormal cells.9,24,25 Surgical excision, involving the removal of cancerous tissue along with a safety margin of healthy skin and tissue, might also be considered a suitable treatment for various forms of skin cancer.9,24,26 

Finally, therapies such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapies may be recommended.5,9,24


Preventative measures to safeguard your skin

To shield yourself and your skin, there are a few simple but effective tips you can follow as you embark on your December holiday:


·         Avoid direct sunlight and seek shady areas.27-29

·         Wear clothing that covers and protects your skin from sun exposure, as well as a

hat when going into direct sunlight.27-29

·        Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply it

regularly when spending time outside.27-29

·        Avoid getting sunburned or using tanning beds.27-29

“Preventative care will reduce your risk of skin cancer for many happier and healthier summers to come. So, prioritize your well-being this month by enjoying the sun responsibly, taking the necessary precautions, and staying alert to the signs of skin cancer,” concludes Dr Katzman.

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