You can either become bald naturally or choose to shave your head, but, whatever the case, having no hair on your head is considered to be a high-risk factor for the development of skin cancer. Throughout the summer months, we are bombarded with adverts for sun creams. We are more conscious than ever that both children and adults should not be excessively exposed to the sun. Society is aware of the risks the sun brings and of the need to protect ourselves. However, we forget that one of the population sectors most affected by skin cancer is people who are bald.
This claim is supported by statistics. People who are bald are the most affected by actinic keratosis; pre-malignant growths which appear as thick crusty scabs on the head, and can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common cutaneous tumour. Each year, more than 17,000 cases are diagnosed, a figure much higher than the 4,000 cases of melanoma.
Doctor Ana Márquez, at Hospiten Estepona, describes the symptoms of this keratosis as rough pink stains, that tend to appear on the head between the ages of 50 and 60 years old. It is important to remember that people who are bald spend years exposed to the sun while damage builds up, and it tends not to be until later years that this disease appears.
According to statistics from the hospital's dermatology department, between six and ten per cent of bald people who are diagnosed with a keratosis go on to develop skin cancer.
We tend to associate sunburn with being on the beach, forgetting that we are exposed to the sun on a daily basis. This is even more the case for people in certain professions, such as builders, gardeners, fishermen and athletes who spend their days outdoors.
However, people who have hair are not free from the risk of skin cancer developing on the head either. People who have close-cropped cuts or shave stripes into their hair are at just as much risk as those who are bald, even if they have long hair.
The doctor firstly recommends the application of maximum-protection sun cream to the head. For those who do have hair, special non-greasy sprays exist for the scalp, which help to avoid burns. Secondly, use of a sunhat is advised, and is, in fact, better than that of a cap, since sunhats provide a greater area of protection.
The ears are often forgotten by those concerned about the sun. Doctor Ana Márquez warns that the ears often suffer from sunburn the most. "Women tend to have their ears more protected because they are covered by their hair, but the ears of men are often very exposed," she explains.
Bald or not, in the case of keratosis being detected, the most effective treatment is cryotheraphy, or the application of liquid nitrogen to the stain. If the patient has many stains, this process could be painful, and so it is substituted by creams or by laser treatment.
On the Costa del Sol, patients are often foreign with fair skin, and have spent many summers on our beaches. As for Spanish nationals, patients tend to be in their 80s, having never protected themselves from the sun, and "turn up with very damaged heads," says the specialist.