South Africa (SA) has one of the highest UV (ultraviolet) levels, and one of the highest skin cancer rates globally.
Fair-skinned people, especially those with red hair, moles or skin spots as well as people with a personal or family history of skin cancer, those who play a lot of outdoor sport, those who work outside or spend a lot of time driving, are considered at a high risk of developing skin cancer.
Skin cancer is generally divided into two categories: Melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and can be deadly. They are often dark or pink moles or patches of skin which are irregular in shape and can bleed. SA has one of the highest incidences of melanoma worldwide, with approximately 1,500 people diagnosed annually. 60% of melanomas arise as new moles.
There are other forms of skin cancer that are less dangerous but are more common and need to be diagnosed early and treated. Non-melanoma skin cancers mainly consist of Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma, is the most common form of cancer and is most common in people over the age of 40 but it can occur in younger people too. This cancer starts in the top layer of the skin, the epidermis, and generally occurs on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation, such as your head or scalp.
If left untreated, these types of skin cancers can lead to disfigurement, or the loss of an eye, nose or ear, which makes early detection so important.
Superficial Basal Cell Carcinoma (sBCC) is the second most common type of Basal Cell Carcinoma. sBCCs appear as red, scaly, flat patches of skin with well-defined borders, which may be slightly rolled. These lesions typically appear on the head and neck area, but also commonly on the trunk or extremities of the body. People often complain of an area of ‘eczema’ that may be itchy or sensitive to touch but typically does not bleed.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer and is curable in 95% of cases if detected early. This form of skin cancer begins in the squamous cells, which are found in the upper layer of the skin and is most frequently found on the head, neck and back of the hands as well as on the lower legs in women.
SCC primarily develops in fair-skinned, middle-aged and elderly people who have had long-term sun exposure. People who use tanning beds have a much higher risk of getting SCC and they also tend to get SCC at a younger age.
Another risk of cumulative sun exposure is the development of Actinic Keratoses (AK), also known as Solar Keratoses, which are areas of skin found mostly on sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the forearms, backs of hands, face, ears, bald scalp and the lower legs. If left untreated they can progress and develop into Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
AK can be sore and itchy, and rough and scaly. People with multiple AKs are also more at risk of other types of skin cancer, which is why it is important to have your skin examined.
Certain types of skin cancer, such as superficial Basal Cell Carcinoma as well as AK can be treated with topical treatments which are available on prescription and can be applied at home.
If found early, most skin cancers can be cured. See your Doctor if you have any suspicious lesions or moles and do this sooner rather than later.
DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.
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- Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). SunSmart Choice (2019) at https://www.cansa.org.za/be-sunsmart/ (Website accessed on 10 November 2019)
- Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). Fact Sheet on Solar Radiation and Skin Cancer. November 2017
- Skin Cancer: What you need to know (2017) at http://cancercare.co.za/skin-cancer-need-know/(Website accessed on 10 November 2019)
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- Actinic keratoses – also known as solar keratoses. Product Information Leaflet. British Association of Dermatologists, 2016. [cited 2019 June 26]; Available from: http://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/patient-information-leaflets.
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