LA Direct: Beat skin cancer with early detection and prevention

LA Direct: Beat skin cancer with early detection and prevention

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in South Africa with about 20 000 reported cases every year and 700 deaths. South Africa has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. The good news is that skin cancer can be prevented by respecting the sun and by doing regular checks for early detection.


Skin cancer know how

Any abnormal growth of skin cells, especially when the cells start growing beyond the normal boundaries of their design, should be checked out by a doctor as it may be the start of skin cancer.

There are three main types of skin cancer, namely basal cell carcinoma (BCC) (the most common, less aggressive and least lethal form of skin cancer), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) (a malignant type of cancer) and melanoma (the most dangerous type of malignant skin cancer and the one that is often fatal).

Spotting the tell-tale symptoms of any of these cancers may mean the difference between life, when detected early, and death.

Tell-tale signs and symptoms of skin cancer

Any and all abnormal skin growths, spots or patches should be treated with suspicion, watched and checked out by a doctor. This includes any moles, freckles or spots that seem different from the others. It may be a false alarm but being safe is always better than being sorry, especially in the case of skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinomas often have symptoms such as open sores, red patches, shiny bumps or scars that may bleed and scab or crust over.

Squamous cell carcinomas may appear as wart-like growths or scaly red patches and have a very characteristic elevated growth with a central hole; the so-called ” rat-bite” tumour. They can also bleed and scab or crust over.

Melanomas are skin patches or bumps that look like moles and are usually black or brown or even blue, pink, red, white or skin-coloured.

Your DIY skin cancer checklist

It isn’t always easy to diagnose skin cancer but it is possible. The following is a checklist drawn up by specialists in the field to help you recognise skin cancer early. They suggest that you perform regular head-to-toe skin checks, paying special attention to the following five tell-tale signs that trouble is brewing.

  1. Asymmetry. A mole or skin lesion that is asymmetrical or lop-sided, in other words the two halves are not equally round, may be malignant (cancerous) and should be seen to immediately.
  2. Borders. Non-malignant tumours (lumps, swellings or growths) typically have a smooth, regular border while potentially malignant melanomas (cancerous growths and tumours) will generally have jagged or uneven borders.
  3. Colour. Melanomas are renowned for the variety of colours (shades of black, brown, tan, blue, red and other colours) that they appear in. A single colour tumour is usually a good sign.
  4. Diameter. Non-malignant skin cancers are usually smaller than melanomas. Anything that is large and growing should be checked out.
  5. Evolving. Any changes in colour, elevation, size or shape spell trouble and should be checked out immediately. The same goes for any new symptoms such as tenderness, itching, pain or sensitivity bleeding, crusting, itching, etc.

Most cancer-related deaths are caused by metastases (growth of secondary tumours) and should be prevented and stopped as soon as possible. You are in a supreme position to do just that. It is up to you to check out any suspect skin lesions, to know what to look for and to see a doctor immediately if you suspect skin cancer.


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