After more than 2 months of lockdown due to COVID-19, most people are impatiently making plans outside the home, in the open air. According to Dr. Pilar Lopez Criado, head of the Lung, Head and Neck Tumor and Melanoma Section at MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid, the problem is that this can lead to an increase in cases of melanoma”. “Our concern is that we foresee massive exposure to sun without protection - people can’t wait to get out, but not to protect their skin”, she adds.
Dr. Lopez Criado also reminds the public, on the occasion of European Skin Cancer Prevention Day, that exposing one’s skin to the sun does not only mean going to the beach, but also just being in the street. “Of course, we have to go out, walk, do exercise in the open air, but we must use protection with at least a factor 30 or more and try to avoid the sun in the middle of the day, from 12.00 to 17.00”, states the doctor. In her opinion, the public is more concerned with protecting themselves with face masks and hand sanitizers than with protecting and taking care of their skin. “The problem is that we don’t see the consequences in the short term, but certainly in the long term”.
Likewise, Dr. Lopez Criado recommends that people who have had COVID-19 consult a dermatologist before exposing their skin to the sun. “We don’t know what effects some of the COVID-19 treatments may have on the skin – some drugs have caused skin lesions, others have caused photosensitivity, and so on, so it is a good idea to check things out with a dermatologist”.
What we do know is that hydroalcoholic gels, or alcohol-based hand sanitizers, should not be used before exposure to the sun. “If we use one of these gels and then we expose our skin to the sun, we can get seriously burned”, warns the doctor, who recommends washing our hands and applying a good sun cream or lotion to enjoy a day at the beach or doing exercise in the open air.
The same preventive measures for 3 different types of skin cancer
Although melanoma is more commonly associated with sun exposure, in reality the sun can also cause another 2 types of cancer – squamous carcinoma or cancer and basal-cell carcinoma. “Although prevention is the same, the origin of melanoma lies in changes in the melanocytes, while squamous carcinoma starts in the epithelial cells, for example”, Dr. Lopez Criado explains, who states that these tumors “are usually caused by chronic exposure to the sun and appear in older people”.
Furthermore, unless they are diagnosed late or are not treated correctly, non-melanoma skin tumors have a good prognosis. “With correct monitoring by a dermatologist and good treatment, 95% of these tumors are curable”, insists Dr. Lopez Criado. A much higher percentage are curable than in the case of melanoma, which is much more aggressive tumor and appears in younger people. In spite of that, the doctor admits that there have been great advances that, although the incidence of melanoma is growing every year, the mortality rate is stable thanks to earlier detection and to treatments that are effective, even in cases of metastatic melanoma.
But what can really help improve the data on melanoma is prevention. “95% of melanoma cases are not hereditary, but are due to excessive exposure to the sun or a particular sensitivity to the sun”, explains the doctor, who insists that exposure to the sun should be carefully controlled and on the need to see a dermatologist if there is any change in the appearance of a mole, even though it doesn’t bleed, doesn’t itch and there is no ulceration.
Finally, Dr. Lopez Criada reminds the public that the sun is harmful because of the UV rays emitted, so she recommends avoiding, or reducing as much as possible exposure to this type of radiation, which is used, for example, to harden nail enamels in some types of manicure and pedicure. “The statistics will be seen in the future, but my recommendation is to avoid this type of manicure as much as possible and go for air dry manicures and pedicures”.