The holidays are coming up and even though it is rather unpleasant to talk about cancer, I always need to make sure that my patients take good care of themselves and stay safe, especially in South Africa where the levels of Ultra Violet light we get are the highest in the world. Do you always remember to apply sunscreen on yourself and the little ones around you? I cannot stress enough how crucial it is.
Tanning can be dangerous and we often underestimate the terrible consequences of relaxing in the sun for long hours, unprotected. This is why this month; I chose to give you some insights about skin cancer. The South African statistics when it comes to this skin disease are alarming to say the least so I hope you enjoy this newsletter and remember to enjoy the sun in moderation!
Skin cancer in a nutshell…
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumours.
Who is at risk?
Those most at risk for skin cancers are people with a family history of skin cancer, past personal history of skin cancers, a past history of excessive sun exposure or sunburns, blondes and red-heads, and those who use tanning beds.
Fair-skinned people are at higher risk of getting skin cancer than the general population, but people with dark complexions can also develop skin cancers. These growths may appear suddenly or develop over time, just as with fair skinned people.
→ Skin cancers often appear on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun. But they can also develop in other areas, including on the palms, under the fingernails, between or under the toes and in the genital region.
The different kinds of skin cancer
→Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, accounting for 8 out of 10 cases in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, with similar statistics here in South Africa.
This type of skin cancer is found most often in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun such as the face, neck, arms, and legs.
Basal cell carcinoma is usually a very slow growing cancer, and very rarely spreads to other areas in the body.
→A second type of skin cancer originates from the flat and thin squamous cells of the skin: the Squamous Cell cancer. This type of skin cancer often appears on parts of the body exposed to the sun.
Squamous cell carcinoma sometimes spreads to the fatty tissue underneath the epidermis, and from there can spread to other sites in the body.
→Melanomas are a type of skin cancer that begins in the darkly coloured melanocytes that make up moles on the skin.
Like the other two types of skin cancer, sun exposure increases the risk that melanocytes will transform into uncontrollably growing cells of melanoma.
What I can do about it.
In treating skin cancer, Dr Serrurier’s main goal is to remove or destroy the cancer completely, with as small a scar as possible.
After the local anesthetic is given, the tumour is excised, the cancer is the wound is sutured together meticulously to make the scar as small and neat as possible.
What you can do about it.
You can improve your chances of finding skin cancer promptly by regularly performing a simple skin self-exam. The best time to do this self-exam is after a shower or bath.
Simply make yourself aware of any new growths or moles that are changing color and shape. If something is bothering you, then please make an appointment. It is better to be safe than sorry.
You should check your skin in a well-lighted room using a full-length mirror and a hand-held mirror. It’s best to begin by learning where your birthmarks, moles and blemishes are and what they usually look like. Check for anything new–a change in the size, texture or color of a mole, or a sore that does not heal.
Dr Charles Serrurier
Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon
MBBCH (Wits), FCS Plast. Surg (CMSA)
PR. N0. 0304131
Life Fourways Hospital