Skin Cancer

Early detection is important

Marie Berry, Pharmacist, Vimy Park Pharmacy, Winnipeg

Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that, while rarely malignant, represents more than 75% of all skin tumours. Ultraviolet (UV) sun exposure and specifically exposure to UVB radiation, is the cause of the majority of basal cell carcinomas – something that is avoidable.

The outermost layer of skin, or epidermis, has basal cells at its base. These basal cells produce the cells that make up the epidermis including the squamous cells. UV radiation initiates changes in skin cells that produce a lesion known as solar keratosis. Solar keratoses are considered the precursors of the various types of skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma and the more often malignant squamous cell carcinoma.

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to avoid sun exposure, especially during the hours between 10 AM and 4 PM when sunrays are the most intense. Fair-skinned Caucasians, older people, and those with a family history of skin cancer are particularly at risk for the adverse effects of sun exposure. the time between the UV exposure and the onset of basal cell carcinoma can be decades. therefore, if you are a member of a high-risk group, you will want to protect your skin from the sun starting early in life and continuing throughout your lifetime.

Sun protection is paramount. Use a sunscreen with at least a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 and that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours when outdoors, especially after swimming or sweating heavily. Always wear a hat and a long-sleeved garment. A severe sunburn increases the risk for basal cell carcinoma. People with outdoor occupation, such as farmers, need to be conscientious about sun protection.

If you do have one or more risk factors for basal cell carcinoma, it is recommended that you perform a skin inspection once a month.

Lesions may occur at sites where there has been trauma, scarring, exposure to a toxic substance such as arsenic, and even a viral infection. Most often basal cell carcinoma occur as as a single lesion on hair-bearing skin (the neck, head, or forearm) that has been exposed to UV radiation.

Therapy for basal cell carcinoma depends upon the extent, site, and size of the lesion, but the larger the lesion the more difficult it is to treat. surgical removal and cryotherapy, or “freezing”, are the usual approaches. Your best bet, however, is to avoid therapy and protect yourself from the sun.

Early detection of skin cancer is important since early detection translates into a 90% cure rate. Skin inspection is key. Look at all of your skin and use a mirror for difficult-to-see areas such as your back. You are looking for the A,B,C,D’s of the disease:

  • A – Asymmetrical lesions (one half is unlike the other half).
  • B – Borders that are irregular.
  • C – Colouring that varies from one area to another (tan, brown, black).
  • D – Diameter larger than 6 millimetres (about the size of a pencil eraser).