Sun safety and prevention of skin cancer starts in childhood.

Dubai Desert Safari. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Dubai Desert Safari. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Snow has melted and summer is around the corner. It is about time to get some sun exposure and vitamin D. But we have to be careful. We have to find a right balance. Too much sun exposure allows ultraviolet (UV) rays to reach your inner skin layers that gives you sunburn. Sunburn kills your skin cells and cause cancer. You don’t want that.

UV rays are invisible, and are produced by the sun and tanning lamps. Most often, skin cancer is the result of overexposure to sun. Good news is most cases of skin cancer can be prevented.

There are three types of skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. The first two are common and have good prognosis but can disfigure your face. Melanoma can be lethal if not treated early. Melanoma is the least common, but most serious type of skin cancer.

Who gets melanoma?

The rate of melanoma has tripled in the last 50 years. Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer. It accounts for only about one per cent of all cases of skin cancer, but is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.

In men, melanoma is most commonly found on the back and other places on the trunk (from the shoulders to the hips) or the head and neck. The most common sites in women are the arms and the legs. People with fair skin, such as those with Scandinavian ancestry, are more prone to sun damage than people with darker skin.

Approximately two per cent of melanomas occur in patients under the age of 20 years, and about 0.4 per cent of melanomas occur in prepubertal children. Children spend more time outdoors than adults. It is known that high exposure to sunlight during childhood sets the scene for higher rates of melanomas as an adult. Your risk of skin cancer increases with level of total cumulative exposure to the sun and number of sunburns. Melanoma loves overexposed and burnt skin.

What happens after diagnosis?

Your doctor will investigate if the melanoma is at an early stage or advanced stage. Early-stage means the cancer hasn’t grown much and hasn’t spread. Treatment is more likely to be successful.

Advanced-stage melanoma usually means the cancer is bigger and has probably spread. It’s important to know the stage of a cancer. It helps decide on your treatment.

Most early melanomas can be treated with wide surgical excision. But prognosis drops dramatically when the tumor has spread. There is no curative treatment available for advanced melanoma.

While we are waiting for scientific breakthrough in many areas of melanoma, we can try and prevent melanoma by protecting against sun exposure and sun burn. Natural protection (shade) is considered the best protection. And sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher) should be adjunct to natural protection.

Wear sun protective clothing (tightly woven). Wear wide brim hats. And use eyeglasses that block both UVA and UVB light.

Skin is the largest organ in the body. It is a very precious and important organ. It has many important functions. It is important for our survival. Let us protect it well starting from childhood. There is no doubt melanoma risk rises rapidly with increasing exposure to ultraviolet light in childhood. That is where the prevention should start and then continued into adult life.

Have a wonderful safe summer.

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