The relationship between our skin and the sun is quite intricate! On the bright side, sun rays have several beneficial effects on the skin, such as Vitamin D production. However, there is also a notorious dark side; the excessive exposure to sun rays poses substantial risks to our health, especially to the skin.
Ultraviolet radiation (UV) is one of those sun rays that we receive at the earth’s surface, yet we cannot see nor feel. The ozone shield is a region of the earth's atmosphere that absorbs most of the sun's ultraviolet radiation before it reaches the surface. Nevertheless, we can still receive a sufficient amount of such radiation to cause skin sunburn, skin damage, and more grave health problems; skin cancer!
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers globally and, to the distress of all, its incidence has shown a substantial increase over the past decades. With repeated exposure to sunlight posing as a prime suspect, climate changes, alterations in the thickness of the protective ozone shield, and changes in people`s social habits can explain the increased incidence.
People who live in regions with bright, year-round sunlight or those who spend a lot of time outdoors without proper protection against the sun are at a higher risk. Skin cancer risk tends to increase with age progression, and this is probably because of the accumulated exposure to UV radiation. By and large, Caucasian populations have a much higher risk of getting skin cancer than dark-skinned populations due to the relative lack of pigmentation in their skin. Dark-skinned people (skin types V, VI) can usually tolerate relatively high levels of sun exposure without getting sun-burnt or markedly raising their skin cancer risk. In contrast, people with fair or freckled skin, light-coloured hair, and blue or hazel eyes fall in the highest risk group (skin types I, II). However, excessive exposure to intense sunlight can do a lot of harm to all skin types.
Moreover, some individual risk factors for skin cancer include a family history of skin cancer, history of severe sunburns, tendency to burn rather than tan, having a large number of moles, as well as individual lifestyle choices such as recurrent use of tanning beds.
This sunny part of the world is no exception! In the United Arab Emirates, skin cancer represents one of the most common malignancies, with a prevalence rate of 14.5 per cent among males. Representing a growing public concern, the country`s incidence of skin cancer is likely influenced by a large number of expatriate residents who comprise the majority of the overall population. Sunbathing is a widespread practice here, especially among the Western expatriates who mostly have the fair skin that is considered the most vulnerable, and this can increase the incidence.
Because of the high annual average sunshine, people living in the UAE should take extra precautions to reduce their risk of skin cancer.
EARLY DETECTION SAVES LIVES, AND IT STARTS WITH YOU!
Regular monitoring, both by monthly self-examination and regular skin cancer screening, should be regarded as an essential part of your health care routine.
Examining your skin for suspicious changes can help detect skin cancer at its earliest stages; look for anything new, changing or `unusual` on your skin. Common alarming skin signs include changes in the appearance of the skin, a new growth, appearance of raised or coloured patches or bumps. Any change in the size, shape, or colour of an existing skin spot, or any new symptom related to it such as itching, crusting, or bleeding, should also raise a red flag.
Despite being helpful, please keep in mind that monthly self-examination is not enough by itself. You are encouraged to have a regular skin cancer screening by your trusted dermatologist once a year, or more often if you are at a higher risk of skin cancer. An annual skin examination takes only a few minutes, but it can be all the difference between catching a life-threatening disease early and not. Your dermatologist can either perform a full-body skin examination or inspect specific lesions that are of concern. In case a suspicious mole is identified, it can be thoroughly assessed using the highly accurate dermatoscope.
Dermatoscopy is a useful, non-time consuming, pain-free and noninvasive imaging technique that refers to the examination of your skin using a skin surface microscopy (known as the dermatoscope) which enables the detailed visualization of subsurface skin structures that can be invisible to the unaided eye. The dermatoscope is a handheld instrument with a transilluminating light source and a standard magnifying optics (10×), and its primary purpose is to accurately identify lesions that have a high probability of being cancerous and help in differentiating them from benign lesions that may mimic skin cancer.
The skilled use of the dermatoscope has been shown to drastically improve diagnostic accuracy, sensitivity, and specificity for skin cancer diagnosis and this is why it is now regarded as a standard in the assessment of suspicious pigmented skin lesions by dermatologists. Nowadays, the application of Dermatoscopy in dermatology is gradually acquiring a role similar to the valuable use of stethoscopes by cardiologists.
Your skin health matters and it pays well to be aware! Early detection of skin cancer markedly increases survival rates because it gives you the best chance for successful skin cancer treatment. Talk to your trusted dermatologist right away if you notice any skin change that looks suspicious. Do not wait, and more importantly, do not consider it of no significance!
Dr. Bina Rabadia, MBBS, MD