What are skin cancers?
They are abnormal growths of cells which form components of our skin. Most commonly are:
-Squamous cell carcinoma.
-Basal cell carcinoma.
The remaining types are rare and constitute less than 1% of skin cancers. Fortunately if detected and treated early, most skin cancers do well. The worst outlook amongst those enlisted is usually for melanomas which look like moles or arise from a mole initially.
What are the risk factors for skin cancers?
Most important is exposure to UV radiation. Factors which predispose to skin damage by UV radiation with further development of skin cancer are:
- Those patients who have had skin cancer before.
- Have many moles, especially large or irregular ones, itchy ones.
- Family history of melanoma or skin cancer
- Light skin and light eyes.
- Spend a lot of time outdoors.
- Living in high altitudes/tropical and subtropical countries.
- Sudden exposure to sunlight after predominant indoor living.
- People with freckles/skin burns due to exposure to sun.
- Certain autoimmune diseases like SLE/certain inherited conditions like Gorlin Syndrome or xeroderma pigmentosum.
- Organ transplants.
- Have a lower immune status due to HIV infection or an autoimmune disease of the skin. People who take medications for a disease which decreases immunity or take drugs to increase sensitivity to UV light like as that for treatment of psoriasis
How does one protect themselves form UV radiation?
Avoid prolonged exposure to sun especially from 10 am to 4 pm, wear eye shades, use sunscreens, wear hats (2-3inches rim), keep your skin covered. Dark clothes with tightly woven fabric protect you better. UV radiation is present on cloudy days too and is infact maximum in spring. Most precaution needs to be taken when on snow, beach (sand) and in water because all three reflect light and increase the UV radiation. Most deceptive is under water when you maybe feeling cool but are not protected from UV radiation. If you are likely to spend a lot of time outdoors on a vacation you could use an app now available in smartphones which show the UV index for that area !
How do I use sunscreen?
First and foremost sunscreen never gives you complete protection; not better that clothing or preferring the shade. Its only a filter and while selecting one check the labels. It should protect you from both UVA and UVB (broad spectrum). It should be with an SPF of 30+ atleast.
What is SPF?
The SPF number is the level of protection you get against UVB rays which are the most harmful. So a higher SPF means better protection against UVB rays. Unless specifically mentioned as broad spectrum sunscreen, these do not protect against UVA. SPF 15 screens out about 93% of UVB rays, SPF 50 about 98%. But no sunscreen protects you completely even if waterproof. When you apply an SPF 30 sunscreen correctly, you get the equivalent of 1 minute of UVB rays for each 30 minutes you spend in the sun. So, 1 hour in the sun wearing SPF 30 sunscreen is the same as spending 2 minutes totally unprotected!
Before you buy a pair, check the labels for UV protection. Ideal ones should block 99-100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Labels saying`meets ANSI UV requirements’ or UV absorption upto 400nm block 99% of UV light. Those labelled `cosmetic` block about 70% UV rays. If there is no label, don’t be sure of UV protection. Always look for the ANSI label. And darker colors do not mean more protection!
Sun exposure and vitD
Most of the Vit D we need comes from sun exposure. So how much is good and not so good. Presently hard to tell although research is on. The amount of Vit D that your body makes depends on your age, your skin color and the amount of sunlight you are exposed to. The latest recommendations are to get the needed Vit D from your diet and supplements rather than the sun and these are more reliable ways of getting the Vitamin.
Get your skin examined regularly by a doc; it could part of your regular medical exam. Do a skin examination yourself in a well lit room in front of a full length mirror once a month. Show the “hard to see“ areas, like the back of scalp etc to your spouse or any dear one. Check all your moles freckles, blemishes and if there are any new changes in them. Most worrying symptoms are a sore that does not heal, redness or bleeding or itching or increase in size of a mole. Change in sensation/ pain in a mole or spread of color pigment into the surrounding skin is usually of concern. Get to your doctor if anything comes up which concerns you. A fast growing mole/itchy lesion is usually biopsied by a dermatologist/ surgeon and seen by a pathologist under a microscope to look for any cancerous changes.
Last but not the least eat nutritious healthy food known for having antioxidants and all the essential vitamins to keep your skin healthy, glowing and keep that sun out to stay clear of skin cancer!