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Sun Protection and Skin Cancer

When it comes to cancers in Singapore, most would be familiar with the more prevalent variants such as colorectal, breast, and lung cancers. However, the threat of skin cancers should also be taken seriously, as it can easily affect both men and women alike.

Understanding Skin Cancer

Statistics from the Singapore Cancer Registry show that in the last 50 years alone, the incidence rate for non-melanoma skin cancers has more than doubled for those aged 65 and above. The incidence rate between 2013 to 2017 stands at a staggering 109.6, compared to 47.9 between 1968 and 1972.

The National Skin Centre also shares that the younger crowd is not spared either. Those aged between 35 to 64 are seeing the incidence rate rise as well. Between 2013 to 2017, there were 1017 diagnosed cases compared to 942 between 2008 to 2012.

Types of Skin Cancer in Singapore

When it comes to Singapore, the three most common types of skin cancer are:

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
  3. Melanoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

BCC begins in the basal cells, which make up the lower portions of the outer layer of our skin. About 60% of skin cancer diagnoses fall under this particular variant. The saving grace is that it is least likely to spread to other parts of the body.

It is still important to get it treated, however, as it will slowly destroy the surrounding muscles and bone if it is left unchecked.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

For SCC, it begins in the squamous cells, which make up the surface of our skin. With a higher chance of spreading to other parts of the body as compared to BCC, it is imperative that this particular form of cancer is treated as soon as possible. Early detection can lead to easier treatment, but if left untreated, it can spread towards surrounding lymph nodes.

Melanoma

As for melanoma, this type of cancer begins in the melanocytes, which are the same cells that help produce skin pigment. The most aggressive of the three common skin cancers, it is responsible for 75% of all skin cancer deaths.

Melanoma usually spreads to lymph nodes and other parts of the body quite readily, thus it is essential that early detection and treatment is initiated.

Skin Cancer Treatment Options

When it comes to treatment options for skin cancer, the options will depend on various factors. The size, type, depth, and location of the cancerous cells will determine the treatment administered. The methods include:

Freezing

By utilising liquid nitrogen to freeze and kill cancer cells, the dead cancer cells will then fall off as they defrost. Multiple sessions are required for complete removal, and some scarring may occur.

Excisional Surgery

Cutting out the cancer cells and a small portion of the surrounding skin that is unaffected, this procedure will also cause some scarring. For affected areas around the face, be sure to consult experienced professionals.

Laser Surgery

This method uses an intense and precise beam of light to vaporise the cancer cells while minimising damage to the surrounding skin. This method is preferred for cancer growths on the surface level.

Mohs Surgery

A surgery that requires a great amount of precision, the procedure requires the removal of cancer growth layer by layer. Each layer will be examined for cancerous cells, allowing patients to keep their skin intact as much as possible.

Curettage and Electrodessication

After removing most of the cancer growth, doctors will use a circular blade/curette to cut out the remaining layer of cancer cells. This is followed up by an electric needle that will kill the rest of the cancer cells missed by the curette. This method will leave a small scar as well.

Radiation Therapy

The use of radiation will kill basal and squamous cell carcinomas, and should only be used if surgery is ruled out.

Chemotherapy

The more commonly known treatment , chemotherapy uses drugs to help destroy cancerous cells. For cancer growth limited to the top layer of the skin, the treatment can be carried out using a cream or lotion. Otherwise, drugs have to be consumed or injected. Side effects such as severe inflammation and scarring are to be expected.

Immunotherapy

Using the patient’s own immune system, immunotherapy encourages the body to fight and attack the cancer cells. This is done by using a special cream applied to the affected area. Immunotherapy is a  particularly useful method that works for both basal and squamous cell carcinomas.

Photodynamic Therapy

A new development in treatment methods, this involves the use of a light-sensitive drug and a specific light source to target and kill the cancer cells.

Preventative Measures

When it comes to skin cancer, the main risk factor is one’s exposure to the sun. This allows ultraviolet (UV) radiation to damage our skin cells’ DNA, which can lead to skin cancer.

In order to minimise your risk, consider the following measures:

Staying in the Shade

To enhance your protection, use sunscreen.

UV-protective Clothing

Long-sleeved shirts and pants can help against UV radiation, and clothes made of tightly-woven fabric and darker coloured clothes will also help.

Wearing Hats

A brimmed hat that prevents sunlight from passing through is your best bet to shade yourself from the sun. This will protect your face, ears, and the back of your neck from UV damage.

Sunglasses

Protect your eyes and the skin around them by wearing sunglasses. This will also help in preventing cataracts.

Applying Sunscreen

The dependable way of UV protection, sunscreen comes in a variety of sun protection factor (SPF) ratings. The minimum SPF rating should be SPF15, and the higher the rating, the better it can block out UV rays. Be sure to reapply sunscreen after every two hours or so, and especially after swimming, sweating, or towelling off.

Be alert about the expiration date of the sunscreen as well just to be safe.

Debunking Sun Protection Myths

Cloudy Days = No Sunscreen Needed

Clouds do not help to block UV rays. In fact, they might actually amplify the effects due to the reflection.

Skin Cancer is Less Likely to Develop for Darker or Tanned Skin

While your skin may not get burned that easily, it does not mean that there is less damage. In fact, skin tanning is the body’s attempt to prevent further UV damage. Proper protection is still needed to keep skin cancer at bay.

SPF Makeup Provides Adequate Protection

Unfortunately, SPF ratings for makeup are usually overestimated and based on thick layers of products used. Besides, it is not just your face that requires protection from the sun.

Sunscreen Can Cause Vitamin D Deficiency

Vitamin D is important for the maintenance of strong bones, and your body produces Vitamin D naturally when exposed to sunlight. Sunscreen may offer protection, but some UV rays will still hit the skin. In addition, you can also obtain Vitamin D from a variety of sources. Food such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, egg yolks, and more can provide plenty of Vitamin D.

Sunscreen is Not Needed Indoors

Not true at all, you are still at risk of sun damage even when indoors. UV rays can easily pass through windows and still damage the skin.

Start Your Journey to Better Health Today

Skin cancer is a dangerous threat, but there are certain ways in which we can minimise its effects and occurrence. Be sure to take good care of your skin, and prevent more UV damage.

By making sure you have all the necessary knowledge and steps to take, you can take the first steps to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun!

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