Be cancer cautious

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With all the sunshine, South Africa has a high rate of skin cancer, many of which are both preventable and treatable.

South Africa has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, after Australia, as far as Caucasians are concerned.

There are three types of skin cancer:

* Basal cell carcinoma. Basal cell skin cancer, is the most common form of cancer. Most skin cancers are basal cell cancer. Basal cell carcinoma starts in the top layer of the skin called the epidermis. Most basal cell cancers occur on skin that is regularly exposed to sunlight or other ultraviolet radiation. This includes the top of your head, or scalp. Basal cell skin cancer is most common in people over age 40; however, it occurs in younger people, too.

* Malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma currently accounts for approximately one per cent of all cancer deaths. However, the worldwide incidence of melanoma is increasing at a faster rate than any other neoplasm, with the exception of lung cancer in women.

Melanoma can affect all ethnic and racial groups; however, the typical melanoma patient has a fair complexion and a tendency to sunburn rather than tan, even after a brief exposure to sunlight. Although there is no conclusive evidence that exposure to sunlight is causally related to the development of melanoma, lesions are most commonly found on sun-exposed areas of the body. Other epidemiologic risk factors include the occurrence of a previous melanoma and an afflicted first-degree relative.

There is a definite link between the occurrence of breast cancer and melanoma. A link has recently also been established between certain prostate cancers and melanoma.

* Squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. It begins in the squamous cells, which are found in the upper layer of the epidermis. Fortunately, SCC is curable in 95 per cent of cases if detected early.

SCC primarily develops in fair-skinned, middle-aged and elderly people who have had long-term sun exposure. SCCs may also occur where skin has suffered certain kinds of injury such as burns, scars, long-standing sores, sites previously exposed to X-rays or certain chemicals.

In addition, chronic skin inflammation or medical conditions that suppress the immune system over an extended period of time may encourage development of the disease. Finally, those who have been diagnosed with skin cancer previously are at a greater risk of recurrence.

Reduce the risk of skin cancer by:

* Avoiding direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm. Stay in the shade or under an umbrella as much as possible.

* Wear protective clothing such as wide brim hats and UV protective swimming suits.

* Wear sunglasses with a UV protection factor of 400.

* Always apply sunscreen regularly.

* Avoid tanning beds.

* Check your skin carefully every month. Look for spots that are not symmetrical, have scalloped or poorly defined edges, colour changes, are larger than 6six millimetres or grow bigger and become more prominent.

Always seek medical advice as soon as possible when concerned about a particular spot on your skin.

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