What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is any type of cancer that begins in the cells of the skin. They usually develop in the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis.
Types of skin cancer
3 common types of skin cancer we have are:
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal Cell Carcinoma begins in the basal cell layer of the skin. This type of skin cancer is more common among Asians and Hispanics than black people. It is mostly linked to too much sun exposure. It’s observable mostly on the head and neck on black skin.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) begins in the Squamous layer of the skin. It can be easily noticed on the legs, bottom and private parts. It is often very serious though curable. This type of cancer is the result of cumulative sun exposure such as farmers and those that work outside in the sun. SCC can reach the blood stream and spread throughout the body.
Melanoma begins in the Melanocytes, which are the cells that make melanin, the pigment that gives the skin its color. Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM) is the type of melanoma that killed Bob Marley, the reggae legend at 36. It is the least common type of skin cancer but the most deadly. The reason is because it’s usually detected late. In blacks it’s mostly detected when it has already spread and the by then the survival rate is low. Melanoma can occur anywhere on your body in any shape, color, or form though its mostly observable on the soles of the feet and hands.
What Causes Skin Cancer?
Skin Cancer is mostly caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. The sun produces ultra violet rays which reaches us on the earth. Other factors which cause skin cancer include lifestyle (bleaching and use of toxic cosmetics), genetics or other environmental influences.
Ultraviolet (UV) Rays
Ultraviolet radiation is also known as UV radiation or Ultraviolet rays. It is a form of energy from the sun. It is invisible to the human eye. It is an electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength from 100nm to 380nm. It is longer than x-rays but shorter than visible light.
UV rays contain a lot of energy which can be harmful to living things. Thus UV rays can result in a change in the chemical structure of a substance.
UV rays can penetrate and change skin cells. When UV rays reach the skin’s inner layer, the skin makes more melanin. Melanin is the pigment that colors the skin, eyes and hair. It moves toward the outer layers of the skin and becomes visible as a tan.
The three bands of UV rays are Ultraviolet A(UVA), Ultraviolet B(UVB), and Ultraviolet C (UVC)
UVA is the most common kind of UV rays at the earth’s surface, and reaches beyond the top layer of the human skin. UVA rays can cause DNA changes, damage connective tissue and increase a person’s risk of skin cancer. They are also referred to as “UV Aging Rays”. They can cause premature aging, wrinkles and skin cancer.
UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, so they are less common at the earth’s surface than UVA rays. UVB rays help produce vitamin D in the skin, they cannot penetrate deep into the skin like UVA rays, though they can still cause a lot of damage. They cause sun burn and skin cancer
UVC rays are very dangerous, but they are blocked by the ozone layer and do not reach us on the earth. UVC rays have the shortest waves and most energy.
In addition to sunburn, too much exposure to UV rays can change skin texture, cause the skin to age prematurely, and can lead to skin cancer. UV rays also have been linked to eye conditions such as cataracts.
Skin Tones and Skin Cancer
All skin types are vulnerable to skin cancer
What factor determines human skin colour?
Human skin color is genetically determined by the quantity of melanin in the skin. People with dark skin have more melanin in their skin. This is a pigment produced by cells called melanocytes. Other factors which may affect the production of melanin are:
Skin damage, and
Exposure to certain chemicals can also affect melanin production
All skin types are vulnerable to skin cancer but the darker a skin tone, the more melanin the skin has to protect it from the damages caused by ultra violet rays. The darker a skin type, the more protection it has from the sun while the fairer a skin the less protection it has. It should be noted that black people can still get burned by the sun as well as develop skin cancer from UV damage.
Darker skinned people are more prone to Acral Lentiginous Melanoma (ALM). This is a deadliest type of Melanoma.
Skin Bleaching and Skin cancer
The terms skin toning, skin whitening, skin lightening, and skin bleaching are synonymous and all refer to the same thing. Skin bleaching is the process of lightening or whitening the skin. The overall effect is to lighten skin tone or provide an even skin complexion by lessening the concentration of melanin available in the human skin. Most bleaching or lightening process involves the use of chemicals to reduce melanin concentration in the skin. Many of these chemical substances have adverse effects on the human body and serious health implications.Melanin acts as the body’s natural shield against damages caused by UV rays in the sun. For blacks in the tropics such as Nigerians, it means that we need more melanin to protect ourselves since we have the sun shining over us everyday. When we bleach or tone we take away this protection and expose ourselves to danger. In 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) released a study in which about 77 percent of Nigerian women use bleaching agents in one form or the other, the highest in the world. This means that we have become the bleaching capital of the world.This signals that we will soon have an epidemic on our hands because the risks associated with the use of bleaching creams and damages caused by UV rays may take more than 30years to show up. What we are currently doing is actually creating problems that will ray its ugly head for the future generations. We are exposing ourselves to future health challenges that our children will have to cope with.Reasons why people Bleach
- Low self esteem
- Lack of confidence in themselves
- Wrong notion of beauty…They believe that black skin is not beautiful
- Peer and societal pressure
- Celebrities influences
Dangers of Skin Bleaching…Health Implications
According to Gloria Okeke, a dermatologist, prolonged use of bleaching or toning agents with the loss of the protective effect of melanin pigment, combined with sun exposure can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. Some of observable effects of prolonged bleaching include:
- Premature aging and skin disfigurement
- Increased pigmentation of the skin also known as Ochronosis
- Increased risk of skin infections such as Eczema, fungal infections, acne and scabies.
- Skin thinning and weakening
- Stretch marks
- Reduced wound healing ability
- Increased incidences of high blood pressure
- Mercury poisoning
- Organ failure such as Kidney disorders including kidney failure and liver disease
- Neurological damage and disorders
- Poisoning using toxic chemicals
- Infertility and poor pregnancy outcomes
- Increased risk of skin cancer
- Steroids (e.g. Cortisone)
- Ascorbic Acid or Vitamin C [higher levels] – Alpha HydroxylAcids
- Niacin amide
- Topical Retinoid
- Kojlic Acid
- Lactic Acid
- Laser Skin Lightening
- Glutathione Injection and Capsules, etc
*Always check cosmetics for any of these chemicals before use.
*Discard if any of them is present.
*A lot of Bleaching agents are toxic and will cause more harm in the long run.
Sun Safety in Cars
Car safety does not only mean seat belts and airbags but also safety from dangers of UV rays while on the road. To protect one’s self while driving:
- Use Window Films
Most windshields have partial sun filters that blocks UVA. Rear windows and sides are mostly unprotected. There is need to use transparent window films are good in providing protection especially for passengers in the car.
- Keep Sunscreen in the Car
A sunscreen should be on hand for quick reapplication during long drives. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reapplying every sun screen every two hours. Sun screen s with SPF of 15+ and some combination of the following UVA-blocking ingredients such as zinc oxide, avobenzone, titanium dioxide, oxybenzone, and ecamsule are ideal.
- Protective Covering
Hats, UV blocking sunglasses and long sleeves are great sun protective coverings.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends reapplying sun screen every two hours.
Seek shade especially during midday hours
Watch Out …Warning Signs of Skin Cancer
- You have warts in the genital or anus.
- The size, colour and size of a new or existing mole changes.
- You develop brown or dark spots under your nails, soles of the feet or on your hands.
- A cut or wound bleeds, oozes, or crusts, doesn't heal, or lasts longer than a month.
- You develop a growth, an ulcer, or sore that isn't healing near a traumatized area of your skin.
Sun Safety Tips
To protect your skin from the sun and avoid premature aging and skin, develop and practice these sun safety habits;
- Seek shade especially during midday hours
- Cover up with clothing to protect exposed skin.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim to provide cover for the face, head, ears, and neck.
- Wear UV blocking sunglasses.
- Always use sunscreen with broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) protection and sun protective factor (SPF) 15 or higher.
- Do a monthly skin self-exam of your skin from head to toe
- Do a yearly skin exam with a dermatologist.
- Exposure to too much ultraviolet (UV) rays is the number one cause of skin cancer.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and UV blocking sunglasses
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF from 15.
- Don’t go out in the sun between 10 am and 4 pm if you tone or bleach
- Avoid getting sunburned.
- Skin bleaching or toning leaches the melanin and exposes the skin to the dangers of UV rays
- A lot of bleaching agents are toxic and can damage the nervous system and kidney failure.
- Watch out for symptoms of mercury toxicity if you bleach. They include: headaches, depression, lack of concentrating, memory loss, irritability, weight loss, tingling sensation and numbness in the hands, feet or around the lips.