Skin Cancer

Facts and faq’s

  Q. What is skin cancer (melanoma)?
The incidence of melanoma has been increasing in fair-skinned people throughout the world for several decades. While melanoma accounts for only 4% of skin cancer cases, it causes about 80% of skin cancer deaths. It is therefore the most dangerous and lethal of all the skin cancers. South Africa has the second highest incidence after Australia. The average age of presentation is 50 years.


Melanoma is a malignant skin cancer which arises from the uncontrolled growth of pigment cells. From the skin it can spread to the lymph glands or via the bloodstream to other organs such as the liver, lungs and bones (metastases). This is invariably fatal. It is therefore imperative to diagnose and treat melanoma as early as possible.


Melanoma occurs most often, but not exclusively, on sun-exposed skin. Excessive sun exposure – especially with blistering sunburn episodes – is one of the major risk factors for the development of melanoma.
  Q. What are the risk factors for skin cancer?
  • red or blonde hair
  • history of blistering sunburn
  • atypical* or dysplastic* moles
  • Frequent use of sunbeds
  • a personal or family history of melanoma
  • a history of other skin cancers
  Q. How can I check if I may have skin cancer?
The ABC's of Melanoma


Melanomas are usually brown-black or multi-coloured patches with irregular outlines, but they may be pink too. They may eventually crust and bleed.


Think of them in terms of the ABCDE rule:


A = Asymmetry. Melanomas are often asymmetrical, whereas moles are generally symmetrical.


B = Border irregularities. Melanomas frequently have irregular, uneven borders with scalloped edging. Benign moles usually have smooth, even borders.


C = Colour variation. Common moles are usually a single shade or shades of brown and black. Melanomas are often multi-coloured, with multiple shades of brown, black, red, white, grey or blue.


D = Diameter. Benign moles are usually (but not always) less than 6mm in diameter, whereas melanomas tend to be larger.


= Evolving: a lesion that is changing in size, shape, or color or a new lesion


Remember that most people develop their moles before the age of 30. A sudden development of a new expanding, irregularly pigmented/non-pigmented patch after the age of 30 should make the red lights flash.


Be aware of any ABCDE changes and as soon as you notice any, get to your dermatologist or general practitioner right away.
  Q. What are the 10 golden rules to remember about skin cancer?
  1. Melanomas are potentially fatal if not diagnosed and excised early.
  2. See your doctor/dermatologist immediately if you become aware of any changing moles or new irregular patches.
  3. Avoid sunburn.
  4. Avoid sunbeds at all costs.
  5. Always apply a SPF 30+ sunscreen before sun exposure.
  6. Avoid sun exposure completely between 11am and 3pm.
  7. Wear appropriate sun-protective clothing.
  8. Avoid excessive sun exposure.
  9. Early melanoma is very much a curable skin cancer. The earlier a melanoma is diagnosed and surgically removed, the better the chance for a complete cure.
  10. Even doused in sunscreen, don’t stay in the sun longer than you have to.

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