SunSmart Skin Cancer Awareness Month
According to WHO (World Health Organisation), as the ozone levels are depleted, the atmosphere loses more of its protective filter function and more of solar UV radiation reaches the earth’s surface. It is estimated that a 10 percent decrease in ozone levels can result in an additional 300 000 non-melanoma and 4 500 melanoma skin cases globally. The main factors that lead to melanoma appear to be connected with recreational exposure to the sun which is within each person’s responsibility.

South Africa has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world with 20 000 South Africans diagnosed annually with non-melanoma skin cancers and approximately 1 500 diagnosed with melanoma.

Most at risk
CANSA (The Cancer Association of South Africa) reports that people with blonde or red hair with light skin, freckles and green or blue eyes are most at risk for sunburn and skin damage. People living with Albinism also need to take care extra special care. However, it is important to know that everyone – irrespective of race or ethnic group – is at risk of getting skin cancer, particularly with the harsh African sun as a backdrop.

Dispelling myths
To manage one’s risk of skin cancer, CANSA highlights common myths which need to be dispelled.

  • The sun is only dangerous in summer or a hot day
  • Sunscreen will protect me completely from the sun’s rays
  • A few cases of sunburn will not result in skin cancer
  • People with darker skins are not at risk getting skin cancer
  • Sunbeds are safe

These myths are all exactly that, myths!

Warning signs
Look out for early warning signs of skin cancer, using the ABCDE checklist supplied by CANCA.

A – Asymmetry. Look for marks where one half is unlike the other. Common moles are round and symmetrical.
B – Border irregularities. Poorly defined edges. Common moles are smooth with even borders.
C – Colour changes. Tan, brown, black, red, white, blue. Common moles are generally a single shade of brown or black.
D – Diameter. Larger than 6mm.
E – Evolve. Grows bigger, becoming more prominent.

You can add a sore or spot which does not heal and continues to itch, hurt, crust or bleed to the list of warning signs. If you notice any of these symptoms, see your GP, dermatologist, clinic or CANSA Care Centre. When caught and treated early enough, skin cancers are highly curable.

Managing risk
The two most obvious ways to manage risk are to cover yourself (e.g. hat, sleeves, umbrella, sunglasses etc.) and ideally, stay out of the sun from 10:00 to 15:00. It is also important to educate children – two intense and blistering sunburns before the age of 18 can significantly increase the risk of cancer later in life.

An obvious area of risk management is the correct application of sunscreen. You should always apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside and re-apply every two hours and following towel drying, perspiring and swimming. Do not use old sunscreen products as they might be expired.

Choosing the right sunscreen however for maximum protection needs specialist and caring advice. Your Link pharmacist will be happy to guide you.




While all reasonable effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of information contained in this article, information may change or become dated, as new developments occur. The Link group shall not be held liable or accountable for the accuracy, completeness or correctness of any information for any purpose.