Common practices that can put people in danger of developing one of the fastest growing cancers in the world — skin cancer
CANCER SOCIETY OF THE BAHAMAS
Published: Jun 04, 2013
For any number of reasons, many people are often not pleased with the skin they were born with. It may be too pale for their liking, not having enough melanin, or it may be too dark, has too much melanin. Or it may be too blotchy, too bumpy or have too many freckles — whatever the reason, they often try to fix the perceived imperfection. Often their fix results in real skin problems, even in some cases, to the development of skin cancer.
June is observed as Skin Cancer Awareness and Prevention Month. We will look at some of the common practices that can put people in danger of developing one of the fastest growing cancers in the world, and the most common form of cancer in humans — skin cancer.
The month of June is observed as Skin Cancer Awareness and Prevention Month. The awareness color for skin cancer is black.
Our beautiful skin
The skin is the largest organ in the body, and it covers the entire body — from the top of the head to the toes. It is a wonderful, hard-working structure and comes in many different shades — from milky white, to charcoal black, and all the myriad hues in between this spectrum, depending on the genes that people inherited from their parents at the time of conception.
An intact skin is one of our body’s best defences against infections, and provides protection for our internal organs from heat, light and injury. In addition, our wonderful skin also regulates our body temperature; stores our water and fat; is one of our sensory organs (sense of touch), and prevents water loss from our body.
The skin has three layers. The top or thin outer layer is called the epidermis. This layer contains melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin, which gives us our individual skin pigment or color.
The second layer is called the dermis. This layer contains blood vessels, lymph vessels, hair follicles, sweat glands, collagen bundles, fibroblasts and nerves. The dermis is held together by a protein substance called collagen — in later life many persons have collagen artificially injected into their skin in order to achieve a more youthful appearance. This middle layer is what gives our skin its flexibility and strength. Due to the nerve endings, it also contains our pain and touch receptors.
The third and deepest layer of our skin is the subcutaneous layer. This layer consists of collagen and fat cells which help to conserve our body heat. It also protects our body from injury by acting as a shock absorber.
Ways in which we damage our beautiful skin
There are two primary ways that we often do irreparable damage to our skin, both of which involve our attempts to alter, or change, the outward appearance of the melanin in our skin — either by attempting to make our skin lighter in appearance, or conversely, darker in appearance.
Skin whitening, lightening or bleaching, refers to the practice of using chemical substances to lighten the skin tone, or even the skin complexion, by lessening the concentration of melanin using skin creams (a very common practice throughout our islands). Many of the products commonly used to achieve the desired skin tone have been proven to be toxic. Many cause mutations in the normal bacteria that are generally found on our skin, and are possibly carcinogenic (cancer-causing).
Tests have shown that the use of skin-lightening creams can cause the following problems: permanent skin bleaching; thinning of the skin; uneven color due to the loss of melanin leading to a blotchy unattractive appearance; permanent redness and intense skin irritation.
Skin tanning refers to the use of tanning beds or over exposure to the sun, to magnify the melanin in the skin, causing it to become a darker hue (a very common practice worldwide). Tans are the result of harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation either from the sun or from tanning lamps and are not good for our skin. A tan means that you have been over-exposed to UV rays and have sustained damage to your skin cells.
The cumulative damage caused by overexposure to UV radiation, can lead to the following permanent problems: premature skin aging, wrinkles, lax skin, brown spots or a combination of all three. It can also lead to skin cancer. Studies have found that persons, who use indoor tanners, are at a 74 percent greater risk for developing melanoma (skin cancer), than those who never tanned indoors.
Studies have also shown that there has been a sharp increase in melanoma in persons aged 18 to 39 years, with a reported increase of 800 percent among young women and 400 percent among young males. It is not a coincidence that young people are more likely to tan than older persons.
Who is most likely to develop skin cancer?
Skin cancer develops in persons of all ages, genders and colors, from the palest to the darkest. However, skin cancer is most likely to occur in persons with fair (white) skin, light-colored eyes, blonde or red hair, those who have a tendency to burn or freckle when exposed to the sun, or who have a history of sun exposure. Anyone with a family history of skin cancer is also at an increased risk of developing this disease.
Protect yourself and prevent skin cancer
There are a number of things that people can do to lessen their risk of developing this disease. Not using skin whiteners, lighteners or bleachers; not using tanning beds or spending too much time in the sun, without appropriate sun protection are primary prevention actions. Appropriate sun protection includes staying out of the sun, as much as possible, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s UV rays are strongest. It also includes applying a broad-spectrum sunscreen, one that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or more, year round to all our exposed skin, before going out in the sun. This sunscreen is to be applied liberally (do not be stingy with it), and should be re-applied every two to three hours, especially after swimming or engaging in physical activity that causes you to perspire.
Additionally, you should wear protective clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat to shade the ears and neck; a top with sleeves to cover our shoulders, as well as long pants. Prevention also includes wearing sunglasses when outside; having regular check-ups and going to the doctor or the nearest health clinic right away, if you notice any suspicious looking lesions, or changes in your skin. Early detection is the best protection against skin cancer.
Your skin is one of your most precious gifts — when intact, it helps to protect and keep you free from germs and injury.
Skin cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers, but you can protect your skin and lessen your individual risk by not using toxic creams on your skin to change your natural color and by minimizing your exposure to the harmful rays of the sun or using tanning beds.
• For more information on any cancer related topic, or if you would like a presentation to be made to your church, school or civic group, please call the Cancer Society of The Bahamas at 323-4441 or 323-4482. You may also log on to our website at www.cancersocietybahamas.org.