According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), skin cancer is alarmingly common, with about 20 000 cases reported annually in South Africa …
Skin cancer in South Africa
December brings summer holidays and fun in the sun, but it’s also Skin Cancer Awareness month.
South Africa has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, after Australia. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, with about 20 000 cases of skin cancer being reported annually. Shockingly, approximately 700 deaths occur from skin cancer in South Africa each year!
Skin cancer can affect anyone
Skin Cancer Awareness Month aims to build awareness about the importance of caring for your skin and avoiding damage from harmful UV rays which can lead to skin cancer.
Skin cancer can affect anyone, regardless of skin colour, gender or age. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports that between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers, and approximately 132 000 malignant melanomas occur globally every year.
Mark Payne, CEO of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA) says that about 86 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers are associated with exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.
“According to CANSA, at least 80% of sun-induced skin damage occurs before the age of 18 and only manifests later in life. Therefore it is imperative to take special care of children in the sun, whether it is at the pool, on the beach, at play, or at school, and babies younger than one year should never be exposed to direct sunlight.”
“Unfortunately, sun-loving South Africans are negligent in protecting themselves from the sun, and over the summer holidays, our community pharmacies are inundated with customers looking for after-sun products to help ease the discomfort of a bad sunburn, and too few customers are using sunscreen.“
Five or more sunburns is bad news
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, sustaining five or more sunburns increases one’s lifetime melanoma risk by 80 percent.
Payne advises that by using the proper sun protection measures you will reduce your skin cancer risk and help prevent wrinkles, leathery skin and brown spots.
10 Sun-safe tips:
- Seek the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm.
- Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin.
- Avoid tanning, especially between 11am and 3pm.
- Never use a UV tanning bed.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim to shade the face, head, ears and neck, especially between 11am and 3pm.
- Use lip balm with a minimum of SPF 20 and apply it regularly.
- Wear sunglasses that wrap and which block out close to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and sun-protection factor (SPF) 15 or higher. Ask your local pharmacist for advice on the best sunscreen for your skin type.
- Remember to reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, and after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel.
- Keep babies out of the sun, especially between 11am and 3pm. A sunscreen should be used on babies over the age of six months.
How to choose a sunscreen
With so many different types of sunscreen creams and sprays available it can be overwhelming to know what to choose. ICPA advises you to look at the SPF and UVA ratings first.
“SPFs measure how much time in the sun your skin can tolerate before burning. If your skin normally burns after fifteen minutes, an SPF 10 lotion will increase the time you can safely stay in the sun by ten times – i.e. two and a half hours,” explains Payne.
“The paler your natural skin tone, the more protection it needs to prevent sunburn, the development of skin cancer, and premature ageing.
“Skin is classified into seven different types: people with type 1 and 2 burn easily, tan only slightly and have a high cancer risk – generally Celtic, redhead or very fair people. Skin types 5 to 7 are predominantly dark Asians and Africans, who have a very low cancer risk and rarely burn. In between are skin types 3 and 4 with a moderate to low cancer risk, encompassing the vast majority of Europeans, Mediterraneans and paler-skinned Asians.”
ICPA recommends that that people with skin types 1 and 2 should always use a minimum SPF of 30 or higher during the summer. Type 3 or 4 should use a minimum SPF of 15, but preferably also an SPF 30 to avoid developing wrinkles and sunspots. People with dark skin (types 5 to 7) should use an SPF 15.
“If you are planning on spending time outdoors this summer, then be sure to chat to your local pharmacist – ICPA wants South Africans to be sun safe. Our community pharmacies are situated in nearly every town, and we are here to help,” says Payne.