The complex relationship between climate change, the surge in ultraviolet (UV) radiation (read fact sheet), and the increase in skin cancer cases globally, is a growing concern for medical professionals and the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). As global weather patterns undergo shifts due to climate change, the consequential increase in UV rays poses a heightened environmental risk for skin cancer, particularly in regions like South Africa with its subtropical location, climate and topography.
According to the International Journal of Women’s Dermatology, the warming climate, coupled with factors such as air pollution from (burning) fossil fuels, contributes to a surge in carcinogenic effects, amplifying the potential harm of UV radiation on human health. This escalating exposure to solar UVR emerges as a significant risk factor for skin cancer caused by intensified UV exposure.
“Skin cancer is a serious health issue,” explains Lorraine Govender, CANSA’s National Manager, Health Promotion. “There are two main types of skin cancer: cutaneous melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer (also referred to as keratinocyte carcinoma) which consists of basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, which are the most common types of skin cancers.”
All skin cancers have shown an increase in incidence worldwide, including South Africa which has cost implications relating to diagnosis and treatment. The National Cancer Registry (NCR) 2019 statistics show melanoma as currently ranking fifth in the most common cancers in men and sixth among women in South Africa.
Govender says, “CANSA’s goal is to help people understand skin cancer better, encouraging risk-reduction actions and contributing to the global conversation on this growing health problem.”
Recognising the warning signs of skin cancer is paramount for early detection and timely intervention. Moles, brown spots, and skin growths, while often harmless, can pose risks, particularly for individuals with more than 100 moles who are at a heightened risk for melanoma. Vigilance in understanding one’s skin and promptly identifying changes in moles is crucial.
The ABCDE signs serve as a valuable guide:
Asymmetry: Halves might not match when you draw a line through the mole.
Border irregularities: Edges may be scalloped or notched.
Colour variations: Different shades or unconventional colours may appear.
Diameter: Moles that are wider than a pencil eraser.
Evolving characteristics: Encompasses any change in size, shape, colour, elevation, or new symptoms like bleeding or itching.
In addition to the ABCDE signs, dermatologists emphasise the ‘FG’ addition, representing ‘Fast Growing.’ Rapid changes in size over a short period, signal potential danger and may need immediate examination by a dermatologist.
Lowering the risk of skin cancer is a proactive approach individuals can adopt to safeguard their health. Key preventive measures include limiting sun exposure, particularly between 10:00 and 15:00 when UV radiation is most intense. Seeking shade or using an umbrella provides additional protection. Wearing protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats and UV-protective attire, shields the skin from harmful rays. Sunglasses with a UV protection rating of UV400 safeguard the eyes. Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 20 or higher, according to skin type. Apply it 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every two hours and after swimming.
“Look out for sunscreens, clothing, hats, and summer accessories that bear the CANSA Seal of Recognition,” shares Govender.
Regular skin checks, following the ABCDE guidelines for mole assessment, aid in early detection. Avoiding tanning beds and being mindful of changes in the skin’s appearance or sensation to aid in lowering the cancer risk.
“It’s crucial to cultivate awareness about the risks of skin cancer,” concluded Govender. “CANSA remains dedicated to empowering individuals with knowledge and tools to protect themselves against the impact of prolonged sun exposure.”