Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. Nearly all skin cancers can be treated effectively if they are found early, so knowing what to look for is important.

CANSA Durban is raising awareness on spot checking, advising people, male and female to do regular spot check for moles.

Former Mrs South Africa, Nicole Capper, a skin cancer survivor with her two children

“Check your skin carefully every month by doing a mole check – ask a family member or friend to examine your back and the top of your head. If you notice any of the warning signs, see a doctor or dermatologist immediately,” said Lorraine Govender from CANSA Durban.

Nornal moles are common small brown spots or growths on the skin that appear in the first few decades of life in almost everyone. They can be either flat or elevated and are generally round and regularly shaped. Many are caused by sun exposure.

Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, most often appears as an asymmetrical, irregularly bordered, multicoloured or tan or brown spot or growth that continues to increase in size over time. It may begin as a flat spot and become more elevated. In rare instances, it may be melanotic, meaning it does not have any of the skin pigment (melanin) that typically turns a mole or melanoma brown, black or other dark colours. In these cases, it may be pink, red, normal skin colour or other colours, making it harder to recognise as a melanoma.

The most common know symptoms which are more serious warning signs of melanoma to appear are; itching, pain, elevation, bleeding, crusting, swelling, oozing, ulceration and bluish-black colour.

Govender said, “There are two main categories of skin cancer, namely, melanoma and non-melanoma.

“Malenoma, is less common than other skin cancers, but it is the most dangerous. It is of special importance to note that excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation received as a child, increases the risk of melanoma later in life. Melanoma is linked with short, sharp bursts of over-exposure, so even one incident of bad sunburn, especially in childhood, can later on in life, trigger damage and develop into a melanoma,” said Govender.
“Non-melanoma skin cancers mainly comprise Basal Cell Carcinoma and Sqamous Cell Carcinoma. Of these, Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common and the least dangerous. These cancers are linked to long term exposure to the sun, for example people with professional sports careers or outside occupations. If left untreated, these can lead to disfigurement, or the loss of an eye, nose or ear, so early detection is important. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is most frequently seen on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the head, neck and back of the hands. Although women frequently get SCC on their lower legs, it is possible to get SCC on any part of the body, including the inside of the mouth, lips and genitals.People who use tanning beds have a much higher risk of getting SCC – they also tend to get SCC earlier in life,” she added.

Even though melanoma is known to affect people with light skin, people with dark skin are also at risk. Govender said, “It is important to take note of the fact that everyone, regardless of racial or ethnic group, is at risk of getting skin cancer. Although people with darker skins are less susceptible, because their skin contains more natural melanin, that protects against sun damage, everyone is at risk from the harsh African sun. Although people with darker skins are at a lower risk of melanoma than lighter skinned groups, the majority of basal cell carcinomas, in people with darker skins, occur in sun-exposed skin, indicating that sun protection is paramount, regardless of pigment. With darker skinned people 70 % of melanomas have been reported to be on the lower limb, with 90% of those being below the ankle. The most common subtype, acral lentiginous melanoma, appears on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.”

Former Mrs South Africa, Nicole Capper, a skin cancer survivor said, “As a cancer survivor sun protection is a massive focus for me. Being diagnosed with malignant melanoma at 25 rocked my world, but I was lucky to have caught it early enough. We’re so aware of other potential health concerns and we make sure we visit specialists annually for other standard check-ups, and yet our skin is neglected for the most part, often until it’s too late. Sunscreen is always healthy. And regular dermatologist appointments should be mandatory. We owe it to our families and communities to stay healthy, and our skin is no exception.”