South Africa has one of the highest monitored ultra violet levels globally, resulting in the country’s population having one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world. This is according to the Cancer Association of South Africa, CANSA.
The 2013 National Cancer Registry recorded the diagnosis of 23 704 incidents of skin cancer (13 923 males and 9 781 females). Furthermore, the StatsSA website (2010 – 2015) shows a steady increase in the mortality (death) rates related to skin cancer.
While South Africa is ranked as a leading outdoor adventure destination with glorious weather conditions, beautiful beaches and bushveld, frequent exposure to sunlight is the main clause of skin cancer.
The importance of being sunsmart has never been more crucial.
CANSA sets the record straight on 5 myths about sun protection:
1. Sun damage is not possible on windy, cloudy or cool days.
FALSE. Sun damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, not temperature. A cool or overcast day in summer can have similar UV levels to a warm, sunny day. Sun damage is also possible on cloudy days as UV radiation can penetrate some clouds and may even be more intense due to reflection off the clouds.
2. You can stay out longer in the sun when you are wearing SPF50+ than you can with SPF30+.
FALSE. No sunscreen is a suit of armour and sunscreen should never be used to extend the amount of time you spend in the sun. Though it may sound like there is a big difference, SPF50+ only offers marginally better protection from UVB radiation, which causes sunburn and adds to skin cancer risk.
3. You can’t get burnt in the car through a window.
FALSE. You can get burnt through a car window. Untinted glass commonly used in car side windows reduces, but does not completely block, transmission of UV radiation. You can still get burnt if you spend a long time in the car next to an untinted side window when the UV is high. More commonly, people are burnt in cars with the windows down, where they can be exposed to high levels of UV radiation.
4. If you tan but don’t burn, you don’t need to bother with sun protection.
FALSE. There’s no such thing as a safe tan. If skin darkens, it is a sign of skin cells in trauma, even if there is no redness or peeling. Skin darkens as a way of trying to protect itself because the UV rays are damaging living cells. If you tan easily, you are still at risk of skin cancer and need to use sun protection.
5. You don’t have to be concerned about skin cancer because if it happens you will see it and it is easy to treat.
FALSE. Skin cancer treatment can be much more serious than simply having a lesion ‘burnt off’. It can include surgery, chemotherapy and can result in permanent scarring. Skin cancer can also spread to other parts of your body.
There are three main types of skin cancer that can affect everyone regardless of skin type, age or ethnic background, CANSA says. “The two most common types of skin cancer are Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Malignant Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, and is linked with short, sharp bursts of over-exposure. So even once incident of bad sunburn, especially in childhood, can later on in life trigger damage and develop into a melanoma.” CANSA adds that if detected and treated early, it can be successfully treated.
Visit CANSA’s SunSmart website (www.cansa.org.za) to find out more information on the different types of skin cancer.
CANSA advises to check your skin regularly for changes, unusual marks or moles. You can also chat to your local healthcare professional or pharmacist if you have any concerns. An annual medical examination should include a skin check.