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January 2021 edition

Protect your skin from the sun

Written by Allison Cooper

Despite various myths, anyone can get skin cancer. 

With Skin Cancer Awareness Month taking place from 1 December to 31 January, Vuk’uzenzele highlights the dangers of skin cancer and explains how you can protect yourself from the sun.

“Skin cancer can occur in anyone, despite their race, age and gender. However, if diagnosed early, it can be treated,” says Dr Khensani Ngobeni-Mkize, a Mbombela-based specialist dermatologist (skin doctor).

Sun damage to the skin starts in childhood and poor sun protection puts children at risk for skin cancer later in life. 

“While there are various types of skin cancer, the three most common ones are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and malignant melanoma (MM). 

“There are also two main categories of skin cancer, namely melanomas (spreads to other parts of the body) and non-melanomas (do not spread),” explains Dr Ngobeni-Mkize.

BCCs are common and most grow slowly. They can start as small, red, shiny spots that sometimes bleed; be flat and scaly; be white, waxy bumps; or be brown or black in darker skinned people. They usually develop on the head, neck and chest. 

SCCs can look like a firm, red bump on the face, lower lip, ears, neck, hands or arms; a flat sore with a scaly crust; a raised area on a scar; or a sore or white patch in the mouth.

MMs, which often look like or grow from moles, are the most dangerous form of skin cancer, as they can spread to other parts of the body and result in death. The majority are black or brown, but they can also be various other colours. Warning signs include a mole with unequal sides, blurred edges, a variety of colours, that is larger than 6mm and changes in size or shape.

Protect yourself from the sun

“Skin cancer is caused when the sun’s rays penetrate the skin, changing skin cells. If the cells are not repaired by the body, they multiply, grow and cause skin cancer,” says Dr Ngobeni-Mkize.

“The early warning signs of cancer include a fast-growing lump, scaly patch, mole changes and non-healing sores,” she adds.

You can protect yourself from the sun by:

  • wearing a broad-brimmed hat.
  • wearing a light scarf to protect the neck.
  • applying broad-spectrum sunscreen to protect the skin. it must also contain minerals and be water resistant. apply sunscreen 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply frequently.
  • avoiding the sun between 10am and 3pm.
  • drinking water.
  • eating a well-balanced diet.

If you are worried about any suspicious skin lesions, visit your local clinic and speak to a dermatologist.