Ultraviolet radiation causes skin cancer. The most common skin cancers with a clear association with UV radiation are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are usually benign and develop as a result of long-term exposure, most often to the elderly. They occur mainly in the face and hands, which are constantly exposed to the sun's radiation.
Malignant melanoma typically develops on the skin of the body or limbs. Unlike other skin cancers, melanoma occurs in relatively young people. Repeated skin burning in childhood or adolescence increases the risk of developing melanoma. Therefore, protecting children from the sun is important.
Melanoma has increased dramatically in all countries inhabited by Caucasians. Although growth has stabilized in recent years, melanoma is still about five times more common in Finland than in the early 1950s. There are no other known reasons for this increase other than changes in population clothing and sunbathing habits.
In Finland more than 1700 people are diagnosed with melanoma and about 220 die from melanoma each year. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are more common, but only approximately forty people die of these cancers each year.
Although melanoma has a poor reputation, it is not one of the worst types of cancer. Early tumour removal will completely cure the disease. About 90 percent of those with melanoma will survive for five years or more.
It is advisable to monitor your skin, especially if you have a sensitive skin type or other features that indicate an increased risk of melanoma. Individual factors such as the sensitive skin type, the abundance of moles and freckles of the skin clearly increase the risk of getting melanoma.
Risk factors for melanoma include:
- skin burns under the age of 15
- sensitive skin (skin types I and II)
- plenty (over 150) of pigment moles
- unusual moles
- abundant sunbathing and sun bed/solarium use
- a close relative has a history of melanoma.
Monitor your skin and see your doctor if:
- a mole begins to grow
- a mole becomes ulcerated, itchy or otherwise irritated
- the border of the mole is blurred and asymmetrical
- colour of a mole ranges from bluish black to reddish
- tiny satellite moles begin to grow around the mole
- other abnormal changes appear on the skin (30% of melanoma originates from other parts of the skin than moles).