Skin cancer: The dangers of too much sun exposure

April 29, 2016

Sunshine is essential to life on Earth, but its invisible ultraviolet (UV) light is a serious threat to healthy skin. This causes your skin to burn, tan, wrinkle, and in the worst case scenario, develop skin cancer.

Damage caused by the sun


Regular exposure to the sun’s rays, whether purposefully or unintentionally, will damage your skin. The effects are worse in people who have little melanin in their skin, as melanin is a natural protectant against the sun. People with darker skin are at a lesser risk of damaging their skin under the same intensity and time of sun exposure compared to people with lighter skin, but this doesn’t mean they are completely safe from its effects.

The UV energy in sunlight causes skin damage that leads to red or brown skin blemishes. These are evident as unwanted freckles or sunspots that are most commonly found on the chest, shoulders and upper back, and on the back of the hands. Sunshine also toughens the skin over time, causing a leathery feel to areas that are regularly exposed.

Sun exposure also ages the skin and causes premature wrinkles. This is due to free radicals that reduce your skin’s ability to properly regenerate. Additionally, bright outdoor light can cause you to squint. Over time this leads to the permanent horizontal lines that branch out from your eyes. Wearing sunglasses with proper UV protection not only minimizes squinting, but protects your vision too.

Skin cancer risks


Over exposure to UV light is a major risk factor for developing skin cancer. There are several different kinds of skin cancer, but melanoma is the deadliest. This form is dangerous because it has a tendency to spread to the lymphatic system, which is connected to the entire body; the cancerous skin cells can then easily spread to other organs and tissues in your body.

As with any cancer, the chance of a successful recovery has much to do with how far it has progressed and whether the cancer is benign or malignant.


How is skin cancer detected?


Skin cancer is often first noticed by patients who report discoloration or an unusual texture on their skin. Or, during an unrelated medical exam, a patient’s doctor notices an oddity in the skin that prompts further investigation.

To determine if a patient has skin cancer or precancerous lesions, a skin specialist performs a full body check. He or she will look for moles that are flat with irregular borders, non-symmetrical in shape, or even nodular. They will also look for discolored lesions that are black, reddish-blue, or dark brown. Other irregularities include patches of skin that are scaly, waxy, red, or bumpy.

A biopsy is the next step. The doctor takes a small tissue sample of the area in question and sends it to a lab to be tested. A certified-board dermatopathologist determines if there is an issue and whether it is cancer, a disease, or some other skin condition. The sample will also be diagnosed as benign or malignant.

Early screenings are the best way to increase your chances of surviving skin cancer, since early detection often makes the treatment less complex and the recovery shorter.

The best preventative measures against the unwanted effects of the sun are to cover up exposed skin. Wear long sleeved shirts, long pants, wide brimmed hats, and a pair of sunglasses. Invest in a bottle of sun block that is 30 SPF or higher and apply an adequate amount, for example, one teaspoonful amount for the entire face, to exposed areas at least 30 minutes before UV exposure, and repeat every few hours.


By Dr . Nussra Wongrattanapasson , Dermatologist, Skin Center, Bumrungrad Hospital
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