The sun is necessary for life, but overdoing the sunbathing is likely to result in skin cancer. Recent figures show that nine out of every ten melanomas (the most aggressive and dangerous type) are caused by the sun’s rays, and only one in ten by genetic factors.
Dermatologists insist that prevention is the best way of not getting skin tumours, and regular checks are important because 95% of skin cancer patients are cured as long as they are diagnosed early. However, melanomas are very dangerous: they are much more difficult to cure and they can often result in metastasis.
The head of dermatology at Malaga’s Clínico hospital, Enrique Herrera Acosta, has said that the main risk factor for skin cancer of any type is solar radiation, especially UVB and UVA rays. These have the ability to produce mutations in the DNA of the cells which make up the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) and stop them repairing themselves. That can begin the process of carcinogenesis, or formation of a cancer.
The incidence of skin cancer has multiplied by 15 in the past 50 years due to a general lack of awareness of the dangers of excessive exposure to the sun. In Spain, 78,000 new skin tumours are diagnosed every year, of which about 75,000 are not melanomas. The dermatology unit at the Clínico hospital sees more than 12,000 patients a year, and carries out about 2,000 operations.
Experts recommend applying sun protection cream 30 minutes before going out into the sun and repeating it every two hours as well as after each swim. They also advise staying out of the sun altogether between midday and 4pm. The specialists also say people should not use sunbed sessions with UVA lamps, as these contribute to the appearance of skin cancers and speed up the ageing of the skin. Anyone who does sport or any outdoor activity is also advised to use sun protection.
Young children should be limited to certain times of day in the sun – early morning or late evening – and high factor sun protection should always be applied. The skin has a memory: it remembers all the exposure to the sun we have had during our lifetime. The more radiation our skin receives when we are young, the higher the risk of getting skin cancer as adults.