Skin cancer: myths and truths

In the World Skin Cancer Day we remember the importance of do regular check-ups to control the health of our skin. Let’s keep in mind that most have a solution if detected early.

To learn more about what it is and demystify some beliefs about skin cancer, we spoke with Graciela Manzur, dermatologist and head of the Dermatology Division of the Hospital de Clínicas.

To begin with, you should know that there are two main types of skin cancer: skin cancer originating from the cells of the epidermis (keratinocytes) recognized as “non-melanoma cancer”, and cancer originating from melanocytes and known as “melanoma cancer”, the most frequent and the most aggressive of skin cancers.

“Although melanoma is much less common than non-melanoma skin cancer, it is also much more aggressive, considering that only 5% of skin cancers are melanomas, and it is these that cause 90% of all skin cancer deaths in the worldManzur details.

Many studies have been carried out to confirm whether the use of cell phones or tablets would increase skin cancer, but there is still no data to confirm this. Cell phones emit radiofrequency radiation within the electromagnetic spectrum and, as they are low energy, they would not cause DNA damage, which is why they are currently considered not to cause skin cancer.

It is not true that on cloudy days the sun is less harmful. On the contrary, we feel less infrared radiation, so we do not protect ourselves from the sun because we do not have heat or a burning sensation and we end up exposed to radiation for longer. If you are also on the beach, you have to take into account that the sand reflects the radiation and, even if we are in a tent or umbrella, we receive the same radiation.

Most of the solar radiation accumulates in the first 15 years of life and, depending on how they protected us from the sun in that period -if we reach a dose accepted by our body or exceed it-, the possibility of developing skin cancer will be conditioned. Therefore, during childhood and adolescence is a key time to take care of UV rays.

To take into account: When we are tanning, there is already irritation from solar radiation, our body synthesizes melanin to try to protect the cell nucleus where the DNA is, the same that, when altered, enables the formation of skin cancer.

Among the main real risk factors it’s found:

Regarding exposure to solar radiation, Manzur reinforces that “UV rays, in addition to being very harmful to health, are cumulative. This means that the time of exposure to UV rays determines certain changes in the DNA that can cause skin cancer, therefore, the more we protect ourselves from this radiation, we can delay the possibility of developing a cancer of this type.

It also states that the sun protection factor, the higher the more effective. And he recommends opting for all those that say “broad spectrum for UVA and UVB radiation”.

While there is no sure or complete way to prevent skin cancerthere are a number of steps you can take to help reduce your risk. Early detection helps in most cases.

regular checks are the great tool for early detection: once a year you should have an appointment with a dermatologist. They have to have special record those people with a family history, or a large number of moles, fair skin, a history of sunburn or alterations in the immune system.

“It is important to control the skin periodically, to detect early lesions that allow timely and curative treatment,” says Manzur.

Secondly, you can go to the “self-examination”, that is, the personal review of the skin once a month to observe if new moles appear or if there are changes in those previously located. Taking pictures can be useful to compare their evolution.

If you travel to a place where it is summer, you also have to pay special attention: It is recommended to be in the shade during central hours, between 12 and 4 pm, to wear clothing that covers the skin, such as a long-sleeved shirt, hats and caps, and sunglasses with lenses that contain ultraviolet filters (UV).

“It is very important to highlight the history of sunburn in childhood and adolescence, which also constitutes a risk for developing skin cancer later in life, since sun damage is cumulative.”

Worldwide, it is estimated that 324,635 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in 2022according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

In Argentina, at the moment there are no final data on the total number of cases of skin cancer. “In our Dermatology Service in 2019, about 400 cases were seen. With the pandemic there was a decrease in consultations and this led to a false decrease in the number, which now with the face-to-face service we once again exceed this figure.”, indicated the consulted specialist, and advanced that “the Argentine Society of Dermatology is working on the Argentine Registry of Cutaneous Melanoma and soon we will have numbers of our reality”.

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