May is traditionally the month when campaigns across Europe are launched to raise awareness of the dangers of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is still one of the most common types of cancer and its incidence is increasing. This is due in part to the increasing life expectancy of the population, but also to the fact that many people spend a great deal of time outdoors for both professional and personal reasons.
In terms of numbers, non-melanoma skin cancer, which develops primarily under the direct influence of UV rays, is the most common kind. This is why it predominantly affects the parts of the body most exposed to UV radiation throughout life: the face/head, neck, arms and hands. Tumour growth is usually confined to its original location, and there are many highly effective treatment options.
Melanoma is significantly more aggressive. If it penetrates deeper into the skin, cancer cells can travel via the lymphatic system or blood vessels and give rise to secondary tumours (metastases) elsewhere in the body; in the worst case scenario, these can lead to death. However, if melanoma is detected early, chances of recovery are high.
It is therefore desirable to detect skin cancer in general, and melanoma in detail, as early as possible, which happens to be possible with regular screening.
What are the factors that influence the development of skin cancer?
As previously mentioned, non-melanoma skin cancer develops primarily in response to exposure to ultraviolet light: the more time you spend in the sun, the more likely it is to occur. This also holds true for artificial UV light, such as that emitted by tanning beds.
Things are more complicated in the case of melanoma; while sunburn in particular is considered a trigger, there are other factors at play, including genetic predisposition, meaning that a direct family history of melanoma (parent, sibling) multiplies the personal risk approximately ten-fold.
People with a lot of congenital or acquired moles are also considered to be at greater risk. As a general rule, fair-skinned people are much more likely to be affected.
What does skin cancer screening involve?
The dermatologist will start the screening exam with an overview of your individual risk factors (medical history). He will then perform a total body skin examination (TBSE): in addition to the trained eye, dermoscopy (incident light microscopy) is an important pillar of the diagnosis of all the findings obtained.
If there are specific suspicions, removal of the lesion or a biopsy are arranged with the patient. For people with a lot of moles, computer-aided digital dermoscopic image analysers are used for complete documentation, allowing the physician to detect even the tiniest changes early on by image comparison. This is particularly useful considering that melanoma can also develop in long-standing, previously inconspicuous moles.
We all enjoy the warming rays of the sun outdoors after a tough winter and choose places which are as sunny as possible for our holidays. Everyone knows about the numerous benefits of sunlight for the body and mind, including the synthesis of valuable vitamin D and its effect on our psychological well-being. According to the latest findings, moderate exposure to UV light is better than none.
Why not have your skin examined at least once, either during a visit to a dermatologist or as part of one of our packages, all of which include a dermatological check? We will also give you personal protection tips and recommendations about optimal intervals between check-ups.
Let's protect our skin and enjoy the beautiful summer.