Ask an expert…
Are people living in the UAE at a higher risk of getting skin cancer than those living in other parts of the world?
There are many factors that can predispose the development of skin cancer, including genetics, the prior affliction of certain skin infections and of course, exposure to the sun. Sunlight has the maximum hazardous effect in the time between 10am and 4pm, so those people with fair skin who work outdoors during this time are at a higher risk. Areas with high annual average sunshine (like the UAE), may be considered when investigating the geographic distribution of skin cancer.
Is skin cancer in the UAE on the rise or decline?
A report carried out by Al Ain Hospital showed an increase in skin cancer, in comparison to other types of cancer, between 1991 and 1995. However, the UAE Cancer Incidence Report released in 2003 only recorded five cases of melanoma (the deadliest and most common form of cancer found in young adults aged 15-34) and other skin cancers for national men and women in 2002, but this number does not include expats. Skin cancers, globally, are on the rise.
What do you think of the recent research that has suggested certain SPF sunscreens can actually increase your risk of developing skin cancer?
Some studies have shown that particular sunscreen ingredients may be linked to an increased risk of melanoma. However, three meta-analysis studies cannot support this claim and most health authorities have concluded that on the whole, sunscreen use is beneficial. One of the recommendations of the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the USA is to use an SPF15 or higher and one which contains both UVA and UVB protection.
Are certain types of skin cancer easier to treat than others?
Cancers in the mucous membrane, such as the lips for example, carry a higher risk compared to other body sites. Also melanomas, although rare, are more dangerous than others. Regular skincare check-ups can
detect skin cancer in its earliest, pre-cancerous stage, which is easily treatable.
Kaya Skin Clinic has branches located around Dubai (04 349 9558).
Did you know?...
A new vaccine being tested in the UK has been shown to help some patients fully recover from melanoma, even in its advanced stages, by attacking tumour cells, leaving healthy cells undamaged. A study of 50 patients with advanced melanoma who had been given no more than nine months to live found that 16 percent of them recovered completely with the vaccine and another 28 percent saw the size of their tumours more than halved.
Return to Oz
In recent years, there has been a seismic cultural shift in the way in which Australians think about the sun. The country has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.
Prompted by startling statistics (for instance, two out of three Aussies will be diagnosed with skin cancer before age 70), the country’s government has attacked the issue of sun safety aggressively, with an approach that ranges from cute – the ’80s slogan ‘Slip! Slop! Slap!’ (slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat) – to the stomach-churning (in a TV campaign from 2008, a pretty 26-year-old tearfully expresses her desire to live. Moments later, we learn she has already died of melanoma and a tagline rolls: ‘No tan is worth dying for.’) The same year, Cancer Council Australia announced that teen tanning had declined by 45 percent over three years.
‘In Australia, the “no hat, no play” rule has become an accepted way of life,’ explains Dr Hussein Ahmed. ‘Schoolchildren must wear caps with large peaks and flaps if they are out playing in the sun.’
According to The Friends of Cancer Patients Society (www.focp-uae.org), a charity organisation set up by the Sharjah Women’s Club, ‘Many people are alive today after being treated for cancers that twenty years ago would have been incurable. Being diagnosed as having cancer does not necessarily mean death. Fear is a natural reaction, but with appropriate treatment more people are surviving cancer…The earlier the cancer is detected, the greater the chance of successful treatment.’
Follow the advice of the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) for prevention and detection of skin cancer
• Avoid the sun between 10am and 4pm
• Seek shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun’s rays are strongest. Practice the shadow rule (if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are at their strongest) and teach it to children
• Cover up: Wear protective clothing and a hat when out in the sun – choose comfortable clothes made of tightly woven fabrics
• Use sunscreen: SPF15 or higher is recommended. Apply a generous amount (about a palmful) and reapply after swimming or perspiring
• Wear sunglasses: Make sure your shades have 99-100 per cent UV absorption to provide optimal protection for the eyes and the surrounding skin
• And remember: Follow these rules to protect your skin even on cloudy or overcast days. UV rays travel through clouds!
The risk factors
• Unprotected and/or excessive exposure to UV radiation
• Fair complexion
• Family history
• Multiple or atypical moles
• Severe sunburns as a child
• Any change on the skin, especially in the size or colour of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot, or a new growth
• Scaliness, oozing, bleeding or change in the appearance of a bump or nodule
• The spread of pigmentation beyond its border such as dark colouring that spreads past the edge of a mole or mark
• A change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness or pain