Reduce the risk of cancer and keep your vitamin D levels in check
Here’s a largely unknown truth: a large proportion of the expat population bring their skin cancer with them, whether that’s malignant or benign, says Bodyworx clinic dermatologist Dr Thomes Berger. ‘It’s not that people overly expose themselves here – the locals, for example, don’t have that many problems with skin cancers. However, there are a lot of foreigners in the country, and it’s predominantly Western expats who suffer from the disease. Caucasians tend to be the most susceptible because of genetic structure and skin types.’
There are two different types of skin cancer, Dr Berger continues: ‘Melanoma, which is the black-mole type, is very dangerous. The other kind is non-melanoma, which is not normally life-threatening, but does cause cosmetic concerns – they can grow, and so it’s an aesthetic issue to remove them. These are less dangerous, but they are extremely common. In Queensland, Australia, where they have the highest skin cancer rate in the world, around 90 per cent of the population has non-melanoma skin cancer. It’s a burden on the Australian health system.
‘I hear a lot of people talk about vitamin D deficiency here, too – and it is true that some local women do have a deficiency. But I recommend just three ten-minute sessions per week in the sun – that’s all we need to ensure a healthy dose of vitamin D. And people with fairer skin need even less.’
People should get checked professionally – how often depends on their risk profile, but generally speaking it’s once per year unless you have a personal or family history of melanoma.
Dr Berger says: ‘The most obvious sign to watch for is a mole that has changed colour. For instance, a mole that is normally mid brown has suddenly become very dark or irregular in colour – such as certain areas becoming darker or redder than others. It could even be a warning sign if it loses pigment – for example, if a mole that was dark becomes light. This could mean that the immune system has found something dodgy and has tried to fight it.’
While Dr Berger agrees that people should be aware of the moles on their body, he says regular check-ups are important. ‘I can’t always tell with the naked eye. For example, with dark age spots, sometimes I need a dermatoscope to see the structure. ‘For most people, it’s difficult to distinguish between a safe mole and a suspicious one. The ABCDE rule that people are taught – asymmetry, border, colour, diameter, elevation – only applies to certain types of moles. For example, some moles are elevated, but I can see it’s a totally harmless one. It’s difficult to trust self-examinations, so the practical approach is to have regular checking. If a mole is seen to be changing, then see a doctor.’
Life through a lens Bodyworx uses a Foto Finder machine, which Dr Berger shows us. The machine allows dermatologists to examine moles more closely and records the size and shape of them to monitor any changes. It shows a super-sharp image of the mole, which allows the dermatologist to both see the mole and keep a record to show that it hasn’t changed.
Often, Dr Berger goes on to explain, people come in with a particular area of concern. ‘But I always offer all my clients a full-body mole check. It’s done within ten minutes and it is important to check the areas that can’t be self-checked, such as the back and the scalp, which are high-risk areas.’
The machine is a small hand-held gun that has a super-high-resolution camera on it. It is connected to a computer and the doctor takes a photo of an area such as an arm, torso or leg. This then is analysed by the computer and any dodgy moles are highlighted. An image is then taken. This analyses the symmetry, colour and general health of a mole and allows the doctor to get a closer look.
‘What is great about this is that it keeps people’s records, so if you have images taken, and then you move to another country, you can take the file on disc to monitor changes as well as your health.’ Bodyworx clinic, located opposite Al Dana Girls School, Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi wwwbodyworx.ae (02 641 9961).
Keep close tabs on your skin at home with these simple tests.
• Asymmetry Look at your moles: if they are irregularly shaped, it’s worth getting checked.
• Growth If there are changes in the width or elevation of the mole, this can be another indication that it needs to be checked.
• Discolouration Dr Berger says this is one of the key things to watch for, as a change in colour (lighter or darker) can indicate the body has recognised and responded to unhealthy cells.
• Pain If any moles cause pain when touched, get them checked out as soon as possible.