May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month — a period dedicated to educating people about early skin cancer detection and prevention.
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide. It can be classified as melanoma and non-melanoma – non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) can also be further separated as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) based on the type of cell in which the cancer originates. Melanoma is a cancer that develops in the skin’s melanocytes, or the skin cells located near the bottom layer of the epidermis that produce melanin. Skin cancer can occur when skin is damaged by sun rays or other sources of ultraviolet radiation, such as tanning equipment.
A history of severe sunburn can increase skin cancer risk. Other risk factors include family history, chemical exposure, and immunodeficiency.
Skin cancer is common but highly preventable through proper sun safety – raising awareness can prevent it and help reduce its incidence.
What Is the Prevalence of Skin Cancer in Saudi Arabia?
In Saudi Arabia, a study of 9,828 cases from 2007 to 2018 showed that 111 patients had skin cancer. The majority of cases were basal cell carcinoma with a total number of 76 (68.5%) of all cases. 18 patients (16.2%) were diagnosed with MSC. The remaining 17 patients (15.3%) were diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma.
Another recent study showed that the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer in Saudi Arabia lies between 3.4 and 4.4 per 100,000 people.
What Are the Types of Skin Cancer?
There are three main types of skin cancer — melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. Other less common types include Merkel cell skin cancer, skin lymphoma, Kaposi sarcoma, and non-melanoma skin cancer.
Here are some common skin cancer signs and symptoms to watch out for.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
It forms on skin exposed to the sun. Symptoms include:
- Small, smooth, waxy, or pearly bumps
- Flat, pink, red, or brown lesion or sore
- Scars-like skin
- Crusty-looking sores that sink in the middle or bleed
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
It appears as firm pink or red nodules. It can also develop as a rough, scaly, or itchy lesion or sore that may bleed or become crusty.
Melanoma can form anywhere, including the eyes and internal organs, and spread to other body parts. It can appear as an irregular brown patch or bump. A mole that bleeds or changes in size or color can be a melanoma. Dark lesions on mucous membranes or skin may also indicate melanoma.
Non-melanoma Skin Cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancer appears as small, scaly, tan, or red spots on skin exposed to the sun.
What Is the Current Level of Patients’ Awareness of the Disease?
In 2021, a study conducted with 529 participants from Saudi Arabia showed that about 55 percent were aware of skin cancer and its symptoms. However, 44 percent of participants were unaware of the types of skin cancer.
Skin cancer awareness is increasing worldwide. However, more awareness campaigns are required to highlight sun protection measures, preventive care, and early screening.
How Can Primary Care Healthcare Professionals Recognize the Symptoms and Advise Their Patients on the Early Signs?
Here are some steps you can follow:
- Perform a thorough skin examination.
- Look for the ABCDEs of skin cancer — Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Colour, Diameter greater than 6 mm, and Evolution or skin changes.
- Educate your patients on skin cancer and the importance of regular skin checkups.
- Promote sun safety to reduce sun exposure.
- Refer your patients to skin specialists or dermatologists for accurate diagnosis.
What Are Current Recommendations on Testing and Screening for Patients in Saudi Arabia?
Skin cancer screening is suggested for high-risk individuals. However, patients can consult dermatologists or conduct self-exams. To promote this, in Saudi Arabia, the government holds national screening programs to detect chronic illnesses like cancer.
If a patient notices symptoms or the ABCDEs of skin cancer, screening and testing must be done immediately.
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