Skin cancer cases up 60 per cent in past decade

In sunny Singapore, where people are living longer, the number of skin cancer cases is on the rise.

So prevention has to start early, experts say.

"People are living longer and seeing the effects of sun damage," said Dr Suzanne Cheng, consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre.

"Skin cancer can take 20 to 50 years to surface, so it's never too early to start prevention."

Such cancer cases have risen by about 60 per cent here in the past decade, she said.

She presented the latest figures last Saturday at the Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress 2014, organised by the National Healthcare Group.

From 2003 to 2007, there were 1,813 cases of skin cancer in Singapore, but from 2009 to last year, the number jumped to almost 3,000.

Skin cancer is caused mainly by too much exposure to harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun.

It is usually curable, especially if detected early, though one form of the cancer, called melanoma, can be deadly.

Complexion plays a part too. Skin cancer rates among fairer-skinned Chinese were about three times higher than in Malays and Indians, said Dr Cheng.

This is because people who are darker have more skin pigment, which acts as natural protection against ultra-violet or UV rays.

Singapore's spike in skin cancer cases could partly be due to an ageing population, since the disease can take decades to surface, she noted.

Dr Chong Wei Sheng, senior consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre, said the rise in skin cancer cases is a cause for concern, especially with more young people taking part in outdoor activities or seeking sun tans.

Giving some practical advice, Dr Cheng said that when golfing or sailing, for instance, people should cover up with UV-protective clothing, and use sunscreen, which should be applied 20 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.

People should also be "skin smart" and examine themselves once a month for persistent irregular growths, especially if the growths are getting larger rapidly, added Dr Cheng.

"It may be a sign that the cancer is aggressive."

And they should watch out for ulcers that are slow to heal, or suspicious asymmetrical moles with irregular edges and colours that are itching, bleeding or increasing in size.

This article was first published on Oct 2, 2014.
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