About skin cancer

About skin cancer

Each year more and more people globally are diagnosed with skin cancer. That means you should keep a close eye on your skin (and the skin of people around you). With early detection, the chance of survival is almost 100%, but a melanoma spreads relatively quickly and survival with metastatic melanoma is very limited. Due to several therapy options, this situation improved dramatically over the last years.

Regular (self) check of the skin is important, but there is still a lot of ignorance about melanoma and especially among young people. They underestimate the dangers of unprotected sunbathing and the use tanning beds. They also often do not realize that the skin damage they now incur increases their chances of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer in later life. Make sure you do a regular skin check with a dermatologist or your general practitioner.

What is melanoma?

The most dangerous form of skin cancer, these cancerous growths develop when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations (genetic defects) that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors. These tumors originate in the pigment-producing melanocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. Melanomas often resemble moles; some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Melanoma is caused mainly by intense, occasional UV exposure (frequently leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease.

A few facts about skin cancer

  • More than 90% of skin cancer is caused by sun exposure.
  • Each hour, 1 person dies from skin cancer.
  • Skin cancer accounts for more than 50% of all cancers combined.
  • Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer among men and women.
  • One bad burn in childhood doubles the risk factor for melanoma later in life.
  • Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Spot your dots

What can you do?

The good news is that when diagnosed early, the survival chances are high. Therefor keep the following in mind:

  1. UV light is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers so we encourage everyone to protect their skin from harmful UV light.
    • Use sunscreen with sun protection factor 30 or higher
    • Wear protective clothing
    • Seek the shade
    • Children should be especially protected from the sun!
  2. Examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Self exams should NOT replace the annual skin exam performed by a physician BUT they offer the best chance of detecting the early warning signs of skin cancer.If you notice any change in an existing mole or discover a new one that looks suspicious be safe and see a doctor.
  3. Be safe: see a doctor for a skin check
    Your physician will thoroughly check your skin especially any conspicuous marks you found during self-exam. Make sure to plan a yearly skin check!

The ABCDEs of Melanoma

These characteristics are used by dermatologists to classify melanomas of the skin. Look for these signs: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, more than one or uneven distribution of Color, or a large (greater than 6mm) Diameter. Finally, pay attention to the Evolution of your moles – know what’s normal for your skin and check it regularly for changes. Here a video which might help you to know what to look out for when you check your skin.

 

The biggest misconceptions about skin cancer - by founder Marije Kruis

1.

"You must've tanned like crazy in your life, right?"

Ironically I never liked tanning, or staying out in the sun for that matter. I grew up in a family with a mom and two older sisters who spend most of the 80's tanning. I was the nerdy kid who liked to stay inside and read cartoons and draw, my mom even complained about me being so pale. She used to say, "honey, you could really use a tan!". When I got into punk and heavy metal in my teenage years my pale skin was a perfect way to rebel against the trend of being tan. When doctors asked me if I tanned a lot, I tell them, "I wasn’t in tanning studios, I was at Iron Maiden concerts."

2.

"If you have skin cancer, you can just cut it away. Easy!"

A part of me, as well as other people, might have thought this about skin cancer at one point, and sometimes it is true for some people. The day the dermatologist told me I had melanoma I must’ve looked rather calm - I didn't understand what the consequences from this little skin removal could be - other than perhaps not being able to swim or stay in the sun for a couple of weeks. The doctor sat next to me, looked at me and said: "I can't say you will be okay, it might be, but your life will never be the same". It took me a while to understand how that was true.

3.

"Oh it's only skin cancer and not something bad like breast cancer"

It often left me puzzled to see family and friends have this "oh luckily it’s only skin cancer and not a really scary cancer" idea in their head. I wanted them to take my medical journey seriously, and at the same time I did not want to worry them more than necessary. Sometimes I want to scream that there’s a 50/50 chance this will eventually kill me, and sometimes I want to be that super cool, strong woman who carries that fear on her own. More than ever, I feel weird when people compare cancer types as if we are in some kind of competition.

4.

“Skin cancer looks super disgusting”

One of my own misconceptions before I got sick was based on the little information and booklets I’ve seen on skin cancer. The images in these booklets were mostly close-ups of very nasty looking big…things. They always looked so very disgusting and made me think: "Well, when you have THAT growing on your skin you’d run to a doctor for sure." Although this is not always easy to recognize right away, you can train yourself on what signs to look for.

5.

“That’s a thing for pale nordic people only”

The most common misconceptions I see is the one that only pale people get melanoma. There are many things that can be said to disprove this and it is a very limited way of understanding. One very sad example I can think of is the fact that Jamaican legend Bob Marley died from malignant melanoma. There are so many more misconceptions out there. Although not all of them are bad or harmful, we have to make sure we keep discussing them- whether that be through conversation, art, joking, or any other medium.