Everything surfers need to know about skin cancer

The summer sunshine has been anticipated by millions all through the year.  Finally it has come, but just be sure you know the risks from the sunlight.  Boasting a tropical climate, Bali is located just 8 degrees south of the Equator, so it’s important to remember the dangers of the sun. One most important is skin cancer.  The key is early detection… Read on.

What is skin cancer?

It is a tumor, an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells, on the skin.  The skin appears to change in texture or color and a sore or nodule may develop on your skin.  These skin changes usually can be seen with the naked eye, and 90% can be cured if treated early.

There are 3 types of skin cancer:

  • basal cell carcinoma
  • squamous cell carcinoma
  • melanoma

(basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are usually referred together as non-melanoma carcinoma).

The outer layer of the skin is made up of squamous cells.  Basal cells are found below the squamous cells.  Melanocytes are in the deepest layer of epidermis.  Melanoma develops from melanocytes.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma (non-melanoma skin cancer) are the most common forms of skin cancer.  The number of new cases of skin cancer appears to be increasing each year.  The number of deaths due to skin cancer, however, is fairly small.

How does it occur?

The most common and easily preventable cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light (sunlight or tanning beds).  Genetic (hereditary) factors play a part in the tendency to develop skin cancer.  Some diseases and some chemicals, such as petroleum products, increase your risk of developing skin cancer.  Also, if you have another type of cancer, the cancer may spread to your skin.

In addition, pipe and cigar smoking can cause squamous cell carcinoma on the lip.  It is common on the lower lip.

Skin cancer develops very slowly. The sunburn you receive this week may take 20 years or more to become skin cancer.

What are the symptoms?

Many skin cancers occur on the face, but they can appear anywhere on the skin.

Symptoms of skin cancer may include:

  • sores or changes in the skin that do not heal
  • a craterlike lesion (ulcer) on the skin that may not hurt
  • change in color, shape, or thickness of a mole
  • bleeding
  • itching
  • pain

Who is likely to develop skin cancer?

People whose skin tans poorly or burns easily after sun exposure are particularly susceptible to non-melanoma skin cancer.  People whose skin tans poorly or who have a large number of abnormal moles may have an increased risk of developing melanoma skin cancer.  Professions such as farmers, other sun-exposed outdoor workers, and vehicle drivers (their sun-exposed arm) are also high-risk for skin cancer.

How is it diagnosed?

Besides examining your skin and asking about your symptoms and medical history, your doctor might request a biopsy, for microscopic examination of the skin.

How is it treated?

The choice of treatment depends on the type of cancer and its size and position on the skin.  A few methods include:

  • shaving off the growth flat with the skin surface, then cauterizing (electrically burning) the surrounding area
  • cutting out the affected area and closing the wound with (stitches)
  • Mohs’ chemosurgery (a method of removing and analyzing layers of the growth and surrounding skin)
  • freezing the affected area using liquid nitrogen.

How can I help prevent skin cancer?

Avoid exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.   Ultraviolet radiation is a stream of invisible high-energy rays coming from the sun. Artificial sources such as tanning booths and sunlamps also produce ultraviolet radiation.

Sun exposure can be reduced by changing patterns of outdoor activities to reduce time of exposure to high-intensity UV radiation (the sun is strongest from 10 am to 4 pm), and wearing protective clothing (such as long sleeves and hats) when exposed to sunlight.

When you must be outdoors, use sunscreen lotions to protect against UV light.  Use a lotion with an SPF value of 15 or more.  The higher the SPF (sun protection factor), the greater the protection.  If you are allergic to PABA, use PABA-free sunscreen lotions.  UV rays from the sun can penetrate clouds and cause sunburn or damage even on cloudy days.  Also remember that sunscreen is not a substitute for avoidance of sun exposure.

Skin cancer that is untreated or partially treated may result in more severe cancer problems.  Unless they are removed, the cancer cells can spread to lymph nodes and internal organs.  Learn the characteristics of potentially dangerous skin growths, and see your health care provider at the first sign of anything suspicious forming on your skin.

Source: BIMC HospitalMdConsult | Skin Cancer Foundation


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