Skin cancer facts

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is observing the month of June as skin cancer awareness month.

skin cancer

Always apply sunscreen to yourself and children when venturing outside. Photo: File

More than 1 million Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer in 2008, much of which could have been prevented.

Skin cancer is a disease in which skin cells lose the ability to divide and grow normally. Healthy skin cells normally divide in an orderly way to replace dead cells and grow new skin. Abnormal cells can grow out of control and form a mass or ‘tumor’. When abnormal cells originate in the skin, the mass is called a skin tumor.

A skin tumor is considered benign if it is limited to a few cell layers and does not invade surrounding tissues or organs. But if the tumor spreads to surrounding tissues it is considered malignant or cancerous.

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. UV rays damage DNA, the genetic material that makes up genes. Genes control the growth and overall health of skin cells. If the genetic damage is severe, a normal skin cell may begin to grow in the uncontrolled, disorderly way of cancer cells.

Anyone can get skin cancer, although most cases occur in people over age 50 with fair skin. It can develop in younger people though, and also those with dark skin.

Some individuals have an increased risk of developing skin cancer, including people who:

*Have light skin, blonde or red hair, or blue eyes;

*Have lots of freckles and moles and burn easily in the sun;

*Live closer to the equator;

*Work outdoors or spend lots of leisure time in the sun;

*Have already had skin cancer;

*Have had one or more bad sun burns as a child;

Common signs of skin cancerinclude:

*A new growth on the skin;

*A change in an existing skin growth;

*A sore that does not heal.

Practical measures to prevent skin cancer include:

*Staying out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the strongest UV rays reach earth’s surface;

*Protecting skin with tightly-woven clothing. Long-sleeved garments made from light fabric can protect the skin and be cool and comfortable;

*Wearing hats with broad brims that shield the face and wearing wrap-around sun glasses;

*Using sunscreens that provide “broad spectrum” protection against both kinds of UV radiation in sunlight, UVA and UVB with a SPF 30+.

How to detect skin cancer: By performing a skin self-exam every month it is possible to detect skin cancer in its early stages. Follow the ABCD rule:

Asymmetry – You should notice the general look of your moles or growths, for example, if one-half of the mole or growth does not match the other half.

Border Irregularity – Notice if the edges of the mole or growth are ragged, notched or blurred.

Colour – The pigmentation of the growth is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown and black are present. Dashes of red, white and blue add to the mottled appearance.

Diameter – If the width is greater than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser), it could be an indicator of an abnormal skin growth. Generally, any new mole growth should be a concern.

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing the development of cancer through its education programs and screening initiatives as well as to providing financial assistance to cancer patients and their families with treatment related expenses.

The Society also offers counselling and support to cancer patients and their families. The Society funds its programs through donations and fund-raising events. For more information on the Society call 949-7618 or email [email protected]