Sun facts

People think that because they don’t see immediate signs of cancer after being in the sun, it wont happen to them. The problem is that it can often be 15-20 years after exposure to the sun that the skin cancer can occur.

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer. Despite the warnings and information now available to the public, people still think that because they don’t see immediate signs of cancer after exposure to the sun, it wont happen to them. The problem is that it can often be 15-20 years after exposure to the sun that the skin cancer can occur.

There are three main types of skin cancer: the basal cell carcinoma; the squamous cell carcinoma; both of which are highly curable and the more serious malignant melanoma. Although death rates are low from the basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, these cancers can cause a great deal of damage and disfigurement if left untreated.

If detected and treated early, more than 95% of these carcinomas can be cured. Malignant melanomas are rapidly increasing and cause more than 75% of all deaths from skin cancer. The disease spreads to other organs such as the liver and lungs but if diagnosed early, malignant melanoma can usually be cured.

Although anyone can get skin cancer, there are some people who are more at risk than others. The risk factors for skin cancer are:

  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Fair to light skin complexion
  • Chronic exposure to the sun
  • History of sunburns in childhood
  • Atypical moles
  • A large number of moles
  • Freckles (an indicator of sun sensitivity and sun damage) People who choose to tan greatly increase their risk of developing skin cancer, this is especially true with people who tan over a number of years as although it can often not be seen, damage to the skin accumulates.

Who is at greatest risk in the sun? People with skin types I and 2 are at greatest risk. Which skin type are you?

  • Always burns; never tans; sensitive (“Celtic”)
  • Burns easily; tans minimally
  • Burns moderately; tans gradually to light brown (Average Caucasian)
  • Burns minimally; always tans well to moderately brown (Olive Skin)
  • Rarely burns; tans profusely to dark (Brown Skin)
  • Never burns; deeply pigmented, not sensitive (Black Skin)
  • A general guide of what to look for:

  • Anything unusual, especially changes in size or colour of a mole or dark spot
  • Any spot or growth that itches, hurts, has a crust or scab, bleeds or is a sore that lasts longer than four weeks or heals and then re-opens.
  • A mole or spot where one half is unlike the other half
  • A scalloped or irregular border to the spot or mole
  • Colour varies from one area to another, shades of brown; black; white; red or blue.
  • Mole or spot has a diametre larger than 6 mm
  • How to tan safely:

    • Avoid the sun between 10 am and 4 pm
    • Wear protective covering such as broad-brimmed hats, long pants and long-sleeved shirts to reduce exposure.
    • Wear sunglasses that provide 100% UV ray protection.
    • Always wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 15 or more, which will block both UVA and UVB when outdoors and reapply it according to manufacturer’s directions.

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