The skin is our body’s largest organ and protects us from many disease-causing pathogens, balances body temperature, and permits tactile sensation. It works as a body’s first defense mechanism and is prone to many issues, including rashes, acne, aging, infection, and skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the human body, uncontrollable growth of the skin cells. Skin cancer often begins on the skin areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, scalp, eye corners, neck, lips, ears, arms, and legs. But some skin cancers can also develop in areas with no sun exposure.
Causes of skin cancer
Some causes of skin cancers are:
- The prime cause of skin cancer is ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted from the sun or sunlamps. Spending time outdoors without skin protection increases the risk of UV radiation exposure. Both UVA and UVB rays can damage or cause mutation in the DNA of skin cells, which can lead to skin cancer.
- Light skin has higher chances of getting skin cancers than dark skin
- Family history of skin cancer
- Chemical exposure, including arsenic exposure
- A weakened immune system, such as in AIDS or a person taking immunosuppressant after an organ transplantation
Symptoms of skin cancer
The symptoms of skin cancer vary depending on the type of cancer, but some common symptoms are:
- An unusual nodule, bump, or dark-colored patch
- A sudden change in color and size of a mole
- A small lesion with an irregular border and scaly surface
- A bleeding ulcer that heals and reappears frequently
- A lesion that itches or burn
How to protect our skin from sun damage?
The sun can damage our skin if we spend too much time outdoors. Most skin cancers occur due to negligence of not protecting our skin from harmful UV radiation. Protection from UV rays is crucial, not just during sunny days but also during cool and cloudy days. UV rays are stronger during daylight (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). We can protect our skin from the sun damage by including some habits in our daily routine, such as:
- Using sunscreen: You should use year-round of a broad-spectrum sunscreen with at least 30 SPF (sun protection factor) to protect your skin. They play a crucial role in sun protection. Use a generous amount of sunscreen on all exposed skin, including the tips of ears, lips, back of neck, and hands. You should reapply sunscreen every two hours if you are continuous outdoor, sweating, or swimming.
- Avoid going outdoor during peak hours: Try to avoid going out during peak daylight time to minimize skin damage by the sun.
- Use protective coverings: For sun protection, you should wear a hat, scarves, and sunglasses when going outdoors.
A tightly woven hat protects the face, ears, and back of the neck from UV rays. A dark-colored hat offers more protection from skin-damaging UV radiation.
Sunglasses protect our eyes and the skin around the eyes from direct sun rays. UV rays can damage our retina and increases the risk of cataracts. Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays provide the best protection.
Wrap scarfs to protect the skin of the forehead, cheeks, and back of the neck from dangerous sun rays.
- Stay in shadow: If you are going outdoor, then try to remain in shades, such as under an umbrella or any shelter, to reduce the risk of sun damage.
- Wear protective clothing: Sunscreen doesn’t give complete protection from UV damage. So wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants that cover your arms and legs. If you can’t wear these clothes, then wear a cover-up shirt. Dark-colored and tightly woven clothes give better protection.
- Regularly check your skin: You should examine your skin for any growth or change in a previously present mole, ulcers, or freckles. You should do a thorough visual inspection of the face, ears, back of neck, chest, underarms, legs, and back of arms for any change.
- Increasing sun-safety measures at schools: Shades or trees should be mandatory outdoors and play areas in the school to decrease the risk of sun exposure. Teachers should encourage students to wear sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen during outdoor activities.
- Avoid tanning beds as they emit UV rays, which increase the risk of skin cancer.
With these simple modifications in our daily lifestyle, we can reduce the risk of skin cancer. Not all skin changes are due to skin cancer, but if any changes worry you, then consult your doctor.
Dr. Kanika Sharma Sood, Director & Clinical Lead – Oncology, Radiation Oncology, Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi