The Ministry of Public Health (MOPH) recently launched a social media campaign to mark skin cancer awareness month. The health body has been sharing posters on its social media platforms urging the public to recognise the signs and symptoms of the disease. Here’s what we have learnt about it so far.
What Is Skin Cancer?
According to the Mayo Clinic, skin cancer is an abnormal growth of cells on the skin. This cancer often—but not always—happens due to sun exposure. So, the parts of the body that are most frequently affected are the face, neck, chest, arms, hands, legs, and scalp. But it can also form in places that don’t get as much exposure. These can include the palms of your hands, the backs of your feet, and under your finger or toenails—common places for people with darker skin. So, contrary to popular belief, skin cancer can happen to people of all skin tones. Most skin cancers are one of three types:
1. Basal Cell Carcinomas
2. Squamous Cell Carcinomas
What Are the Risk Factors?
According to the MOPH, many risk factors for developing skin cancer are related to exposure to the sun and other sources of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. These include:
• living in a sunny climate
• using tanning beds and lamps
• having a history of sunburn
• having a lighter skin tone due to less protection against UV rays
• having a history of radiation skin treatments
Other risk factors include:
• having a personal or family history of skin cancer
• taking immune-suppressing medicines or being immunocompromised from an illness like HIV
• having many moles (more than 50)
• having actinic keratosis (a type of precancerous lesion)
• being exposed to chemicals like arsenic
What Are the Signs?
Different skin cancers have different symptoms, but here are some general signs to should look out for:
• A new mole or an old one that changes size, shape, or colour: this is especially important if it’s asymmetrical, has uneven borders or different colours, or is larger than six millimetres.
• a sore that never heals and has a raised border and visible blood vessels
• a pale or yellow flat area on the skin that looks like a scar
• a waxy/pearly, flesh-coloured, or brown slow-growing bump
How You Can Protect Yourself
You can do several things to reduce your skin cancer risk, including:
• wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher in the daytime regardless of the weather and re-applying it every two hours
• wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs, hats, and sunglasses
• avoiding direct sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm
• being extra careful if taking medicines that increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun
• avoiding tanning beds and lamps
• examining your skin every month and keeping an eye on any changes
How to Get Help
If you notice any of the signs mentioned above or are concerned about any changes you’ve seen on your skin, you can call the Primary Health Care Corporation at 107 and make a doctor’s appointment. If necessary, the doctor will refer you to a dermatologist at Hamad Medical Corporation for further investigation. Alternatively, you can book a dermatology appointment at a private clinic.
Where to Learn More
To learn more about skin cancer and this month’s campaign, follow MOPH’s social media platforms. The Skin Cancer Foundation is another reputable, physician-led organisation that provides reliable information on skin cancer, and you can visit their website at skincancer.org.