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Performing regular skin self-checks is important for everyone, especially if you fall in the high-risk zone. Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: As summer sets in across the UAE in full force, doctors have sounded the clarion call for skin protection.

Protecting the skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation is the first line of defence against skin cancer, the fourth most common cancer in the UAE, they said.


Cancer prevalence

May is designated as the international Skin Cancer Awareness Month, and experts highlighted that nearly one in five people develop skin cancer sometime in their lives. The disease, which is marked by the uncontrolled, abnormal growth and multiplication of cells, is often caused by the extensive or prolonged exporsure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

According to a 2019 report by the UAE National Cancer Registry, skin cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UAE after breast, thyroid, and colorectal cancers. It is the second leading cause of cancer among men, and sixth among women.

Prevention is best

The good news, though, is that nearly all skin cancers can be cured if diagnosed and treated early.

“While there are various treatment options available for skin cancer, it is important to focus on prevention, as it is always better than treatment. The first line of defense to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun’s harmful UV rays,” Dr. Ahmed Al Dhaheri, staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Medical Subspecialty Institute, told Gulf News.

“When most people spend time outside, they are exposed to some ultraviolet rays from the sun. The excess heat of the Middle Eastern sun can lead to first degree burns that might increase the rate of skin cancer,” added Dr Mona El-Meligy, dermatology specialist at Tajmeel Royal Clinic, Dubai.

Risk factors

While people of all skin tones can develop skin cancer, some people are at greater risk, including people with a naturally light skin tone, those with skin that burns and reddens easily, individuals with blue or green eyes, or blond or red hair, and people with a family or personal history of skin cancer.

Older people and people with organ transplants are also more prone to developing the cancer, as are people with numerous or unusual moles.

“Whether or not you have any of these risk factors, limiting your exposure to ultraviolet rays will help keep your skin healthy, and minimise chances of developing skin cancer in the future. Making sun protection a daily practice allows you to enjoy the outdoors safely while avoiding sunburn and reducing the risk of skin cancer,” Dr El-Meligy advised.

Sun protection

  • Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, long pants, as well as wide-brimmed hats, and sunglasses with UV-protection, when heading outdoors in the daytime
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and wear lip balm, even on cloudy days.
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or exercising in the sun.
  • Avoid the sun during peak hours between 10am and 4pm, as the sun’s rays are strongest during this time.
  • If you have to be outdoors, seek shade and using a beach umbrella or other sunshade can also help protect you from direct sunlight.

Additional risks

Apart from naturally occurring risks for skin cancer natural risks, many people today put themselves in greater danger because they use tanning beds and sunlamps excessively.

“Tanning beds have become a growing fad across the world as people seek that ‘sun-kissed glow’. However, these should be avoided, as they emit harmful UV radiation and they are especially dangerous for young people, who increase their risk of developing skin cancer later in lifen by tanning in this manner,” warned Dr. Fatima Al Faresi, staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Medical Subspecialties Institute.

Early detection 

Doctors also urged residents to keep an eye on their skin so that they can detect and seek treatment for any warning signs.

“While prevention is the best approach, it is also important to detect skin cancer early so that it can be treated effectively. Everyone should examine their skin regularly for any signs of skin abnormality or changes which can help detect the disease early when it is most treatable. This includes checking moles and other skin lesions for any changes in size, shape, or color,” Dr Al Faresi said.

Certain types of abnormalities are more indicative of skin cancer. According to Dr Raghda Al Maashari, dermatology staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Medical Subspecialties Institute, an ABCDE rule is used to detect skin cancer red flags.

ABCDE rules

The ABCDE rule calls on people to watch out for skin markings with the following characteristics:

Asymmetry: Irregular shape

Border: Blurry or irregularly shaped edges

Colour: Mole with more than one colour

Diameter: Larger than a six-millimentre pencil erase

Evolution: Enlarging, changing in shape, color, or size. This is the most important of the warning signs.

“Your skin is the largest organ in your body and needs as much attention as any other health concern. What may seem like an innocent cosmetic imperfection, may not be. Therefore, performing regular skin self-checks is important for everyone, especially if you fall in the high-risk zone,” Dr Al Maashari said.