Skim the Surface, Think a Little Deeper
Taking closer inspection of our skin
Warmer days and balmy nights are upon us which means timeout for our skin. But before you start whipping off the layers, tuck a few skin home truths up your sleeve for summer. Let’s start by exploring the actuality of the sun’s damage and real-time stats around two of our most common types of skin cancer.
UVB, UVA – which is worse?
The integrity of our skin is affected by both UVB and UVA – not either or – which is why it is essential to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen year-round, not just summertime. To back the facts, a recent study by researchers at Binghamton University New York, found that no UV range is more harmful than the other – in fact, the damage scales with the amount of UV energy that the skin absorbs. They found that UV weakens the bonds between cells in the top layer of skin by affecting proteins in corneodesmosomes that help the cells to adhere together. The result – sunburn that leads to peeling skin. The most important takeaway from studies like this? That skin protection is important no matter what the season. The stratumcorneum is the first barrier to the outside, so we need to protect it to avoid infections and other problems.
Common and increasing
Here in New Zealand, SquamousCell Carcinoma (SCC) and Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) are our most common skin cancers – and they are on the rise. According to the Cancer Society NZ, there are approximately67,000 cases of new non-melanomacases recorded each year – this number could in fact be greater as there is no statutory requirement to record non-melanoma. “Unlike melanoma, our deadliest cancer – which tends to grow aggressively – many SCC swing between a slow growing pattern, or rapid enlargement across a few weeks,” explains Adam Bialostocki, Bay Plastic Surgery’s cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgeon, and skin cancer specialist. “BCC tend to be slow growing with little spread.” So, how do you tell the difference between SCC and BCC cancers? And who is more at risk from developing them?
SCC quick facts:
- Colourings and size: Typically reddish, crusty lesions which can feel tender to touch, may only be a few millimetres in diameter.
- Whereabouts: Typically found in sun exposed places – including the lips, which can be smoking related.
- Common in who? Fair skinned people are dominant candidates, and men are twice as likely to develop SCC lesions. Those who have undergone organ transplants are 250% more at risk of development too.
BCC quick facts:
- Colourings and size: Sometimes pearly in appearance, or pale and waxy in texture. But may also appear crusty/scabby.
- Whereabouts: Approximately 85%will showcase on the head and neck region.
- Common in who? Fair skinned people and more commonly appears in later life
Time to check in
And, just as screen should be worn year-round, it’s important we skin check year-round. “Before the thick of summer actually arrives is a good time to get a professional skin check,” advises Adam. “Because moles and lesions tend to show less of the normal signs of sun exposure during the cooler months. In summer, when the skin experiences new bouts of sun activity and exposure, it can be harder to identify skin lesions that need attention. Andin between professional checks, self-screening is a must.”