Summer is here and the weather is already getting hot and steamy, sending waves of people to Cayman’s beaches to cool off.
However, with a golden tan comes the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers. Between 95 and 99 per cent of all skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun.
Dr. Else Christoffersen of Cayman Doctors says if skin cancer is detected early, treatment has a very high success rate, so it is vital that people learn the warning signs and seek medical assistance as soon as they notice any changes in their skin.
Skin cancer is found in children, but it is generally a condition that affects adults, particularly those aged 40 and over. She advises those to check all areas of their skin, including skin not normally exposed to the sun.
“Look for changes in shape, colour or size of a pigmented lesion or a new lesion regularly, meaning every three months,” she says.
“You should seek assistance from others to check difficult-to-see areas, such as your back. It is a good idea to take pictures of your skin, especially on your back, to enable you to see if there are any changes,” the doctor says.
Christofferson says if you are concerned about skin cancer risk or skin changes, seek advice from a medical doctor and discuss skin cancer risk, need for medical checks or self examination.
The warning signs for skin cancer are: any crusty, non-healing sores; small lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour; new spots, freckles or any moles changing in colour, thickness or shape over a period of weeks to months (especially those dark brown to black, red or blue-black in colour).
If you notice any changes, immediately consult your doctor who may perform a biopsy by removing a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope, or refer you to a specialist if he/she suspects a skin cancer.
Christofferson says that even the most serious form of skin cancer – melanoma – can be cured if the cancer is detected and treated early enough. “The five-year survival rate when melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 99 per cent. The prognosis is not as favourable once melanoma spreads,” she says.
People with naturally pale skin who burn in the sun usually learn after enduring severe sunburns to stay out of the sun, cover up or to put on plenty of sunscreen when they go to the beach, but Christofferson warns that while skin cancer does not discriminate between skin colour, the most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, is deadlier in black and Hispanic people because it is more likely to go undetected.
Those with light skin without a history of skin cancer are at average risk of skin cancer; those with an increased risk are people with a family history of melanoma, who have fair complexion, a tendency to burn rather than tan, have freckles, light eye colour, light or red hair colour; who have liver spots or old age spots; a history of non-melanoma skin cancer; and who have been exposed to high levels of UV light and episodes of sunburns in childhood.
Those at an even higher risk of risk of skin cancer are people with multiple moles who have had a personal or family history of melanoma.
There are three main types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. The latter two are also known as non-melanoma skin cancer.
Sunscreen protects against sun damage, says Christofferson, but it should not be used as the first or only line of defence against ultraviolet radiation.
“Sunscreen should always be with other sun-protection measures such as wearing tightly woven clothing that covers the arms, legs and trunk, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses. It’s important to seek the cover of shade whenever possible and avoiding outdoor activity during peak UV period from 10am to 2pm,” she says.
A good way to protect yourself from sun exposure is to the five S’s.
Slip on sun protective clothing
Slop on SPF 30 +
Slap on a hat
Slide on some sunglasses
Christofferson warns that regardless of how high the SPF factor of the sunscreen once chooses, no sunscreen product provides 100 per cent protection against UV radiation.
“In laboratory conditions, an SPF30+ sunscreen filters approximately 96.7 per cent of UV radiation. However, over 3 per cent of UV radiation transmits through to the skin. The amount of UV radiation transmitting to the skin increases as length of exposure time increases.
“Sunscreen should not be used to extend time in the sun or to achieve a suntan. Sunburn and skin damage can occur even when sunscreen is applied, and skin damage can occur even though the skin does not appear to be sun burnt,” she says.
The most effective sunscreen is labelled SPF30+, broad spectrum and water-resistant. Sunscreen that is broad spectrum and has an SPF rating filters out both UVA and UVB rays, while water-resistant sunscreen protects the skin during swimming and physical activity provided it is not wiped off.
The average-size adult should use one teaspoon of product on each arm and leg, on the back and on the torso. Half a teaspoon should be applied to the face and neck – including the ears and the back of the neck, the doctor advises, adding that sunscreen should be reapplied every two hours.
Infants under six months of age should be kept out of the sun as much as possible, thereby avoiding the need to use sunscreen.
However, there may be times when this is not possible.
In such situations, sunscreen may be applied to areas such as the face, ears and hands if these areas cannot be protected with wraps, Christofferson says.
So, enjoy this Caymanian summer, but stay safe and find some shade.