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Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday December 15, 2013 MYT 10:36:38 AM
Hugh Jackman tweeted recently that he had been treated for skin cancer and urged his fans to use sunscreen.
It may not be as common as other cancers, but skin cancer can certainly wreak havoc, and even cause death.
THE revelation by actor Hugh Jackman that he was treated for skin cancer must have come as a shock to many of his fans.
And even though skin cancer isn’t the most common of cancers, it is not without its dangers, especially the type known as melanoma.
AFP recently reported that “the Oscar-nominated Hollywood star warned Twitter followers to have suspicious marks checked and to use sunscreen”.
“Deb said to get the mark on my nose checked,” Jackman wrote on his Twitter account, referring to his wife Deborra-Lee Furness.
“Boy, was she right! I had a basil (sic) cell carcinoma. Please don’t be foolish like me. Get yourself checked. And USE sunscreen!!!” he wrote, with a link to an Instagram picture of himself.
The report did not mention any specific details about when or where it was diagnosed or treated.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation in the United States, more than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed annually in the country.
In Malaysia, the Third National Cancer Registry Report revealed that skin cancer accounted for 2.6% of all cancer cases in the country.
The World Health Organisation states that “the incidence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past decades. As ozone levels are depleted, the atmosphere loses more and more of its protective filter function and more solar UV radiation reaches the Earth’s surface.
“It is estimated that a 10% decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300,000 non-melanoma and 4,500 melanoma skin cancer cases. The global incidence of melanoma continues to increase – however, the main factors that predispose to the development of melanoma seem to be connected with recreational exposure to the sun and a history of sunburn”.
As ozone depletion will be a continuing phenomenon in the near future, the chances of decreasing skin cancer incidence is a remote one, so steps will have to be taken by the individual to reduce risk as much as possible.
What causes skin cancer?
Now, why did Jackman exhort his fans to use sunscreen? This is because most skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun.
According to Cancer Research UK, this may be either long-term exposure, or short periods of intense sun exposure and burning.
In essence, the ultraviolet (UV) light in sunlight damages the DNA in skin cells. The cumulative effect of such damage over the years can lead to skin cancer.
Hence, factors such as the time you spend outdoors will have an impact on risk.
In addition, natural skin colour is also a risk factor. This may explain why fair-skinned people are more at risk. Their relative lack of melanin, a protective pigment in the skin, exposes them to more damage from the UV rays in sunlight.
This doesn’t mean that those with darker skins are totally protected – their risk may not be as high, but there’s still a risk.
It also explains why albinos (those with an inherited genetic condition where there’s no melanin in the skin at all) are at highest risk of skin cancer. They have no natural protection against sunlight.
There are a few risk factors for skin cancer. These include:
·Age - As you get older, the risk increases. This is due to more sun damage accumulated over the years. However, this doesn’t mean that young people do not get skin cancer.
·History of skin cancer - If you’ve had skin cancer before, the chances are higher that you will get another one.
·Family history of skin cancer - Studies have found that a family history of skin cancer increases risk.
·Other skin conditions - People with certain skin conditions are more likely to develop skin cancer. These include those who have had past radiation exposure, a weakened immune system and exposure to certain chemicals.
Types of skin cancer
Basically, there are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma and melanoma.
Non-melanoma skin cancer consists of two main types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which affected Jackman, and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
Repeated bouts of sunburn or excessive exposure to sunlight increase the risk of BCC.
SCC is more associated with total overall exposure to sun in a lifetime.
This means that those who work outdoors and are constantly exposed to the sun, such as fishermen, labourers and farmers, generally have an increased risk of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Both BCC and SCC are quite common, and can be treated effectively.
There are also a few uncommon types of non-melanoma skin cancer, which we will not delve into in this article.
As with non-melanoma skin cancer, there are also a few types of melanoma. Suffice to say, melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “melanomas often resemble moles; some develop from moles. The majority are black or brown, but they can also be skin-coloured, pink, red, purple, blue or white. It is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease”.
If a melanoma is not treated early, it can advance and spread to other organs. When this occurs, treatment becomes much more difficult, and death is a possibility.
While melanoma is not the most common of the skin cancers, it causes the most deaths.
Recognising skin cancer
There are a few warning signs that you should be aware of.
According to the health information website WebMD, these include:
·Change in the size, colour, shape or texture of a mole or other skin growth.
·An open or inflamed skin wound that won’t heal.
·A change in an existing mole.
·A small, dark multicoloured spot with irregular borders - either raised or flat - that may bleed and form a scab.
·A cluster of shiny, firm dark bumps.
·Having a diameter larger than 6mm (the size of a pencil rubber).
WebMD also highlights an easy way to remember the signs of melanoma, i.e. the ABCDEs of melanoma:
·Two or more Colours or changes in colour.
·Diameter larger than 6mm (the size of a pencil rubber).
·Elevated or Enlarged.
In any case, it’s important that you seek medical advice when you observe such changes in the skin.
The doctor will assess you, and a biopsy may be carried out. This is where a small patch of skin is removed for testing.
If the test comes back positive for skin cancer, other tests will be carried out to check if it has spread to other parts of the body. Such tests may include blood tests, X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and possibly, a lymph node biopsy (to check if the melanoma has spread to nearby glands).
Treatment depends on how early the cancer was detected.
Most are detected early enough to be removed before they spread.
For those not so lucky, treatment will depend on whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
In addition to surgical removal of the cancer, other treatments (depending on the stage of the cancer) may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug treatments.
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