by Professor Giuseppe Argenziano, MD, President of the International Dermoscopy Society
Skin cancer: what is it?
There are three types of lesions:
- Actinic keratosis and solar keratosis: These very common lesions are not skin cancers. They are scaly patches that are rough to the touch and tend to recur on the surface of the skin. They appear following prolonged and repeated sun exposure. They indicate that the skin has lost its natural ability to protect itself against the sun and its UV rays. Some of them can lead to the development of skin cancer.
- Carcinoma: They represent 90% of skin cancers and are mainly caused by frequent and repeated sun exposure during adulthood. Early detection means carcinomas can be treated since they are slow growing. Since carcinomas are generally located on the face, late detection can lead to unsightly scarring. Therefore, it is essential that you consult a dermatologist if you have any doubts.
- Melanoma: A malignant tumour. This is the most dangerous kind of skin cancer because it can put the patient's life at risk. It appears as a result of short intense bursts of sun exposure such as those that cause sunburn. It takes the form of brown or black spots on healthy skin. And in 35% of cases, it concerns a pre-existing mole. Diagnosed during its first stage of development, it can be completely cured with medical treatment. If you discover a suspicious lesion, it is therefore vital that you consult a dermatologist.
Artificial UV rays: A safe way to tan?
Natural tanning is a defence mechanism against UVB rays. Tanning beds, however, use painless and insidious UVA rays. The UVA rays that produce fake tans are responsible for the premature aging of the skin and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
Good habits for sun safety
- Avoid sun exposure during the times of day when there is strong sunlight: 50 to 70% of skin cancers are linked to overexposure to UVB and UVA rays.
- Reduce children's exposure to the sun: 80% of skin damage caused by the sun occurs before the age of 18. The damage caused by exposing your skin to the sun and to strong sunlight between childhood and adulthood leads to the development of skin cancer.
- Use a very high factor sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays, remember to reapply it every two hours, and wear sunglasses and a hat.
- Consult a dermatologist if a skin lesion appears or if you observe any changes in a mole. Between doctors' visits, stay vigilant and monitor your moles using the Mole Checker!