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Let’s fight against skin cancers

In anticipation of another summer of ‘fun in the sun,’ leading South African dermatologists today made a bold stand against the rising incidence of skin cancer and melanoma among South Africans.

With temperatures already in the high twenties in Johannesburg, chances are that it is going to be another scorching summer in a country known for its sunny climes and highly sought-after outdoor life.

In what can be described as the most tangible bid yet to accelerate skin cancer awareness and prevention in South Africa, the South African Society for Dermatological Surgery today announced the formation of the Skin Cancer Foundation of South Africa (SCFSA).

Commenting on the objectives of the foundation, founder and specialist dermatological and laser surgeon, Dr Marc Roscher, said that skin cancer is a highly preventable lifestyle disease, which is in dire need of increased public awareness and education, particularly in terms of sun protection and skin cancer prevention.

“The SCFSA will focus on raising public awareness through the sharing of information that assists in the prevention, early detection, and treatment of skin cancer. Skin cancer is a specialised medical field, which is in need of a focused, expert approach. The provision of informative, quality material to healthcare professionals and patients alike will be integral to the success of the campaign,” said Roscher.

He added that an annual, national screening day will be facilitated by dermatologists countrywide on a pro-bono basis with the intention of alerting patients to what these cancers look like, how to inspect themselves and their families for skin cancer and how to prevent it.

According to Dr Derek Odendaal, President of the South African Society for Dermatological Surgery, sharing the latest discoveries in terms of skin cancer management with general practitioners and primary healthcare givers will form part of the activities of SCFSA. “It is the aim of the foundation to set the standard for educating the public and the medical profession about skin cancer, its prevention by means of sun protection, the need for early detection, and prompt, effective treatment.”

“Another important goal of the SCFSA will be to collate and disperse data about skin cancer statistics to healthcare professionals and the media. It has been of great concern to us that reliable statistics are not available when it comes to skin cancer and this is something that we wish to change,” he says.

“Everyone needs protection from both the sun’s ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) rays which cause sunburn, skin cancer and ageing. Just a few serious sunburns in early childhood can increase the risk of skin cancer later in life. Children do not have to be on the beach or at the poolside to get too much sun. The school playground, sports field and any prolonged, unprotected outdoor activity can cause sun damage. Because children have a larger proportion of skin to body mass than adults, severe sunburn can furthermore cause serious fluid and electrolyte imbalances. Apart from a good sunblock, children in particular should always wear hats and specially designed swimwear, which will cover their tender skins,” notes Dr Odendaal.

“There is no such thing as a safe tan. Contrary to what many people believe, an already tanned body or a dark complexion does not protect the skin from harm. And while a freckled face may be cute, it shows vulnerability to sun damage and is a sign you might already have had excessive exposure to the sun.”

Melanoma cautionary

“Melanoma causes around three quarters of all deaths related to skin cancer. It can usually be successfully treated if it is diagnosed and treated very early when the tumour is still small and thin, before it has had a chance to metastasise or spread to the lymph nodes and other organs of the body,” cautions Dr Roscher

Given the fact that melanoma is best treated in its early stages, it is important for people to regularly check themselves for any moles, sores, lumps or growths on the skin. They should report any changes in such skin blemishes or bleeding from a skin growth to their doctor. Watch out for changes in colour, size or texture. Those who have a fair skin or have a family history of melanoma should have their skin checked by their dermatologist once a year. With mole mapping doctors are able to detect changes under the skin before they become obvious on the surface.

Sunburn advice from the SCF

Sunburn essentially is an inflammation of the skin that has been caused by over exposure to the harmful rays of the sun. This in itself can create a number of complications. For example, when temperatures soar, protection is needed against heat rash, heat stroke and sunburn.

A sunscreen or total sunblock is an important accessory when heading outdoors. If possible, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out into the sun, since it takes that long to be absorbed into the skin. The SPF (sun protection factor) in a sunscreen provides an indication of the amount of protection being offered. For example, a tested SPF of 23 implies that the user can remain in the sun twenty-three times longer than without protection, before burning.

Before applying sunscreen, check the expiry date on the bottle and replace it if necessary. Remember to shake the bottle before applying, and reapply lotion after sunbathing, towel drying, or after sweating heavily. In the event of over exposure to the sun apply cool tap water compressed for 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times per day, until the redness subsides. This can provide immense relief since the evaporating water will moisten and cool the skin.

A sunburn relief spray or moisturising cream will further ease discomfort. Doctors strongly caution against using petroleum jelly on a burn, since it will seal out the air needed to ensure healing. In the case of severe sunburn, blistering, pain, nausea or chills, a doctor should be called immediately. Steroid ointments or creams may be prescribed, and large blisters might have to be drained and dressed.

Don’t wait for a healthy red glow to appear before reaching for your hat or sunblock. In fact, most sunburns do not reach their peak colour until six to twenty-four hours after sun exposure!

Always wear protective clothing, hats and shirts before going out into the sun;

Even 30 minutes in the sun without protection is too long!

Remember, as you move inland, above sea level, the sun’s rays become more intense;

Avoid being out in the sun between 11h00 and 15h00 when the sun is at its strongest;

Don’t skip the sunscreen when it is slightly overcast, particularly not if you are on the beach, since ultraviolet light can penetrate light cloud cover;

Exposure to the sun whilst overdressed only adds to skin distress. So do thick lotions and oils, such as petroleum jelly, which prevent moisture evaporation and therefore block pores resulting in heat rash;

Beware of the glare, particularly at the seaside, where you are unlikely to find natural shade. Do not rely on a beach umbrella alone since it cannot protect the very young or elderly from the reflected glare of sun on sand. Instead, pitch a small beach tent, which will provide adequate shelter;

UVA rays pass through glass. A person sitting near a window (unless tinted for sun screening) is also susceptible to the damaging rays of the sun.

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