Health Matters – Skin Cancer

Summer is finally here and we all want to get out and enjoy the sunshine. However, as we are undoubtedly aware, the sun poses serious risks to our health, and skin cancer has been on the increase in Canada for the last 30 years.

According to Health Canada, in 2005 there were approximately 78,000 new cases of basal and squamous cell carcinomas, as well as 4,400 new diagnoses of malignant melanomas. In Canada, two people die every day of skin cancer.

Basal cell and squamous cell cancer are the most frequently diagnosed skin cancers in Canada. These types of cancer occur most frequently on the face, neck, or hands. They are slow growing and rarely spread to other organs and, fortunately, are easily removed by surgery.

Malignant melanomas, however, tend to occur earlier in life and progress rapidly. Unlike basal cell and squamous cell cancer, malignant melanomas can occur on any part of the skin, not just areas that are exposed to the sun.

Sun exposure is the main environmental cause of skin cancer, as most skin cancers are the result of exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun and tanning lamps. Ultraviolet rays cause damage to the cells, which can weaken the immune system and lead to skin cancer.

Skin cancer tends to occur more often in fair-skinned individuals and on sun-damaged skin. Fair-skinned individuals with red or blond hair who burn easily are at increased risk of developing skin cancer, and infants and children are also at risk as their skin is more sensitive.

?When you are sunburned,? says Dr. Niels Krejci, an assistant professor of dermatology at the Boston University School of Medicine, ?the genetic material in the skin cells is mutated and the cancerous cells can arise.?

There are several ways to minimize your risk of developing skin cancer. When participating in outdoor activities look for shady areas, wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses, and use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.

Sunscreen should be applied liberally about 30 minutes before going into the sun, and reapplied after swimming or excessive sweating.

Another good preventive measure is to avoid the sun between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., the hours when It’s most intense.

As well, some medications can make your skin more sensitive to UV rays, so check with your pharmacist.

Most skin cancers can be cured if detected early. Therefore, It’s important to check your skin regularly for any changes in moles, dark patches, bleeding, or crusting.

For more information on skin cancer, visit the Health Canada website or the Skin Cancer Guide.