Pretoria - Every year, 20 000 South Africans are affected by skin cancer resulting in more than 700 deaths, according to the National Cancer Registry.

As a result, the use of effective sun protection and early detection are becoming increasingly important.

Executive for medical standards and services at PPS Insurance Dr Dominique Stott said there were various forms of skin cancer, of which the most dangerous was malignant melanoma, which may spread to other parts of the body.

“Other forms of skin cancer such as the basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas, although they may be disfiguring, do not generally spread but are more common than the melanoma.”

Skin cancers are mostly due to exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

“Many of the skin cancer patients were exposed to excessive amounts of sun as children due to South Africans traditionally spending time in the sun unprotected by sun screening lotions or protective clothing,” says Stott.

However, not only sunlight but also ultraviolet light from tanning salons has been shown to be an environmental causative factor in the development of skin cancer.

Stott says skin cancer cases tend to increase with age due to many years of exposure to the sun.

“To avoid long-term skin cancer of any form, people must apply sun screen regularly when in the sun and put on protective clothing to prevent cancer. This is also important for those who are exposed to the sun in their occupations.

“It is also possible for melanomas to develop in areas not exposed to sunlight, such as the nail bed, the mouth or the groin. Should any darkening of the nail bed develop it would be advisable to have this checked by a medical practitioner.”

There are various forms of treatment depending on the type of skin cancer. For the more common forms, Stott says a dermatologist may surgically remove the lesion or prescribe creams.

For a melanoma, surgical removal is usually performed. If removed in the early stages it may be cured, but if removed after it has penetrated the deeper layers of skin, it may require intensive treatment. - Pretoria News