The word cancer brings fear to so many people. Infact some become aggressively religious with the “God forbid” “it is not my portion” phrase. But the shocker is it could happen to anybody. Wait a minute! Medical experts say it can be prevented. But how? You might ask?
Let’s begin with dictionary definition; Cancer is a group of diseases involving abnormal cell growth with the potential to invade or spread to other parts of the body.
If this is too complex for you to understand, you’re not alone. Ibiene reached out to a medical doctor and expert in skin cancer management to breakdown the complexities. This time around, our focus is on the skin.
But first, he tells us a bit about himself.
Dr. Ogolo: My name is Dr. Diepiri Ogolo, I am a medical doctor, a fellow of the Australian College of General Practitioners and member of the Australian Skin Cancer College.
I did my primary medical training at the University of Benin before relocating from Nigeria to pursue further training in my field of expertise.
Ibiene: Is it true that skin cancer does not affect dark skinned people because of the melanin pigment?
Dr. Ogolo:There are 3 broad types of skin cancer
- Basal Cell cancer.
- Squamous cell cancer.
Melanoma is by far the most aggressive of the types and more common in darker skinned people than the other types of skin cancers, so this assumption that dark skinned people do not develop skin cancers is not only false and misleading, it is also a dangerous piece of misinformation to peddle. I was involved in treatment of patients diagnosed with melanoma when I worked in Nigeria. Lighter skinned people aged above 50 are more commonly diagnosed with basal and squamous cell skin cancers. In fact the statistics in Australia where I practise shows that 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by age 70 .
The melanin pigment found in all skin types and moreso in darker skinned persons is certainly protective against skin cancer but excessive exposure especially to ultraviolet radiation from the sun will certainly result in skin cancer in persons more genetically predisposed to same.
Ibiene: Please clear the air on skin cancer being common mostly among people living with albinism.
Dr. Ogolo: Persons living with albinism because they lack melanin are at a greater risk of developing all types of skin cancer. They are thus encouraged to be sun smart, wear protective clothing including UV protection sunglasses as melanoma can affect any part of the body including the eyes.
Ibiene: There are millions of skin care products in the market. What harmful ingredients should one look out for when purchasing these products?
Dr. Ogolo: There are lots of skin care products out in the market. By far the most useful of these products to prevent skin cancer are sunscreens with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 50+ and above. These have been shown to reduce the incidence of skin cancer in persons exposed to excessive amounts of direct sunlight especially when UV index is extreme.
Ibiene: Some say when you use natural products like Shea butter, coconut oil you will never get cancer?
Dr. Ogolo: Products like sheer butter and coconut oil have infact resulted in more melanoma deaths in Australia than any other product on the market. Rubbing coconut oil on the skin before going out in the sun is akin to marinading chicken in barbecue sauce before putting it in the oven…..the results are very predictable.
Ibiene: What are the symptoms of skin cancer?
Dr. Ogolo: About the symptoms of cancer, we teach our patients the ABCD rule of skin cancer. We advice our patients to regularly check their own skin just like the breast surgeons advice women to do their own breast examinations. We ask people to look out for the signs which the mnemonic ABCD stands for
• “A” stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
• “B” stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
• “C” is for color. Is the color uneven?
• “D” is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
With melanomas because the cancer may not even be dark, an additional mnemonic EFG
. “E” is for evolving where the suspicious spot starts to look different from before.
. “F” is for firm, the lesion begins to feel firm (albeit often painless).
. “G” is for growing, where the lesion is growing rapidly.
These signs are generally warning signs which need to be evaluated by a doctor who is trained in skin cancer detection.
Ibiene: Is skin cancer curable and is there hope for someone who has been diagnosed with such?
Dr. Ogolo: In my experience, by far the most common feature patients present with are with sores that just do not heal. Someone has a sore that has remained for more than 3 months, the sore bleeds, gets itchy, forms a scab or a crust which is easily knocked off, these are tell tale signs of skin cancer.
Unfortunately, some people ignore these signs and present when these skin cancers have either grown to disfiguring sizes or even spread to other organs like brain, liver and lungs.
Ibiene: What are the preventive measures for skin cancer?
Dr. Ogolo: The treatment for most skin cancers especially when found early is surgical excision of the cancers. This is often the only treatment required for small basal cell and squamous cell cancers. Early detected melanomas also do not require any more treatment other than surgical excision. By far the most important prognostic factor for treatment of a skin cancer is the stage at which the cancer was detected and removed. With early detection surgical treatment gives excellent results. With late detection, other treatments like radiation treatment and immune therapy are used in conjunction with surgery but the survival rates are significantly lower in these groups of persons.
Skin cancer is almost 100 per cent preventable. Protection from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the first step in prevention of skin cancer. In Australia we use the term slip, slop, slap for prevention of skin cancer. This is taught in primary school to kids who in turn pass on the message to their parents. We advice to slip on protective clothing like long sleeved shirts, trousers, slop on sunscreen (with reapplication as often as every 4 hours) and slap on a hat when going out in the sun.
Regular skin examination also helps to detect skin cancers early. We recommend once yearly skin checks by trained skin cancer doctors. The frequency of these skin checks will generally depend on the particular risk associated with each individual.
Like stated earlier, skin cancer is a preventable disease. It is not necessarily a death sentence, it can be cured very easily when detected early. People just need to be aware that certain misleading information can be detrimental to their well being, they need to consult suitably qualified health practitioners for accurate information and advice when dealing with matters which there has been very little acknowledgement for in the past.
At this point we can all agree that it is better to take cues from the person with experience so that we can as much as possible choose a lifestyle that is illness preventive.
Do you have any question for Dr. Ogolo? Please share in the comment section.