The Burn: Understanding Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Symptoms

Many a times while reading western beauty and health magazines, online and otherwise, you may have noticed how often warnings of skin cancer are mentioned. Meanwhile in Pakistan, people are mostly clueless about the disease. You will be hard pressed to find anyone slathering on sunblock lotion when they venture outdoors, even when the sun is bright during the countries long summers.

There’s a reason behind this unique phenomenon. Cultural trends, dressing styles, and skin pigmentation help protect against the sun’s rays. In turn, the prevalence of skin cancer in Pakistan is less common than in the United States, Australia, and European countries.

However, we are not immune to the sun’s harsh beatings.

Skin cancer is referred to as the most common type of cancer today. It is usually caused by too much exposure to the sun, tanning beds, or sunlamps. More than 90% of all skin cancers are found on the parts of the body that are most exposed to the sun.

Melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer in Pakistan, according to data collected by the Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital. It is also the most aggressive form and the most difficult to treat. But the good news is that if caught in its early stages, melanoma is almost always curable. 

Common Skin Cancer symptoms:

  • Sores or open inflamed wounds that are not healing
  • Tenderness or itchiness in a particular area of skin
  • Change in the appearance of a mole

Causes of Skin Cancer:

  • Excessive exposure to the sun every day
  • Family history of skin cancer makes you 8-12 times more likely to get it
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Weakened immune system
  • History of sunburns

What Should You Do if You Suspect Skin Cancer?

The first step in the treatment of skin cancer is a physical exam conducted by your doctor. If the doctor suspects that your symptoms are linked to skin cancer, you will be asked to get a biopsy, where a tissue sample will be removed from that particular spot on the skin. The sample will then be reviewed to determine whether it is cancerous or not.

In Pakistan, skin cancer treatment comes in various forms. The most common methods are chemotherapy, anti-cancer drugs to eliminate cancer cells, radiation to destroy cancer cells and surgery. In some cases, topical drugs are also used to treat skin cancer. However, in cases of melanoma, surgery is usually the only treatment prescribed.

Preventing skin cancer:

Being familiar with the various moles and freckles on your body is very important when it comes to examining yourself for signs of skin cancer. An unusual occurrence or sensation in a new or existing spot on your skin should be checked by your doctor.

Your best bet is to protect yourself from over exposure to a blazing sun as much as possible. Take a leaf from those beauty magazines, even if they are from another part of the world: when there is no way to avoid sunlight, slap on a good amount of sunscreen (at least SPF 50) and brave your way through the day. As in most health related matters, prevention is the best course of action.