Spring is a beautiful time of year, but it also brings with it some skin care concerns, with the warmth of the sun’s rays reminding us that our skin needs extra protection. However, thinking that we only need to take special precautions in summer and spring is nothing more than a myth.

"It is a myth that we only need to take special precautions in spring or summer. The harmful effects of the sun are a threat during all seasons and prevention remains the best weapon against skin cancer," said Dr Maria José Passos, a highly experienced physician working with HPA Health Group, who has dedicated her life to tackling skin cancer.

To make it clear - about 90 percent of skin cancer cases are caused by UV exposure. These tumours are more common in older people and their incidence has increased in recent years, as has their morbidity. However, not all cancers have the same signs, so it is important to distinguish one from another.

Major types of skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer. The first, and most common, is basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which accounts for 65 percent of skin cancers. Directly related to sun exposure, it is the most common in the Western world and is described as slow growing and rarely spreading to other organs.

Responsible for 25 percent of cases, squamous cell carcinoma is the second type of skin cancer. It is characterised by an unusual and accelerated growth of squamous cells, which usually occurs in sun-exposed areas, and is diagnosed by biopsy. Unlike the previous cancer, this one may metastasise at an advanced stage.

Last of all, melanoma - which is less common but more deadly - accounts for between five and ten percent of cases. In fact, it represents 80 percent of skin cancer deaths and is the second most common cancer in people under 30 years old. However, when diagnosed at an early stage, it can be cured with 90 percent success.

Risk Factors

According to the doctor, there are several risk factors. People over 50 years old, who have a family history of skin cancer or people with more than 50 moles and light skin or light eyes have to be alert. However, the main cause is without a doubt exposure to sunlight.

“Skin cancer occurs when there are mutations in the DNA of skin cells. These mutations make cells grow in a quick and disordered way, giving rise to a malignant tumour”, she said.

Not all types of skin cancer can be prevented with careful prevention. When it comes to melanoma, although exposure to ultraviolet radiation is also a well-known risk factor, especially for those with a history of sunburn during childhood, "melanoma is a disease with a more complex biology and also depends on other genetic factors, such as having green or blue coloured eyes, red hair or freckles".

However, the good news is that most skin cancers are preventable.

“There are some precautions you need to take, such as avoiding exposure to sunlight, especially at times when UV radiation is strongest (12pm-5pm); use sunscreen on the beach or in the countryside, throughout the year, even when the sky is cloudy (sensitive skins must have an SPF of at least 30); wear protective clothing, such as dark clothes that cover exposed areas, wear a hat with ear protection, sun glasses; be very careful with sun exposure in children, who are more sensitive to UV radiation and should always use sunscreen with SPF 50. In addition, check your skin regularly”, Dr. Maria José Passos explained.

The danger of sunbeds

We couldn’t speak of skin cancer without mention the harmful effects of sunbeds. Sunbeds are cabins with light tubes, which release concentrated artificial UV radiation and are a great cause of skin cancers, especially melanoma.

"There are several international studies, in which Portuguese dermatologists have participated, that have shown the relationship between previous exposure in sunbeds and increased risk of all skin cancers, namely squamous cell carcinoma and melanomas”, she pointed out.

Vitamin D can’t be an excuse

We all need vitamin D but this does not mean extended exposure to the sun. In fact, only about 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight a day lets your body produce the necessary levels of vitamin D - this means you only need to take a walk in the countryside at 8am.

In addition, it’s not only about sunlight. To get the adequate levels of vitamin D, “we must not forget to eat calcium-rich foods to avoid vitamin D deficit in the body," the doctor said.

Warning signs

If you spot anything that might concern you, please see a doctor. The following tips just give you a clue on what you should be concerned about.

For example, in terms of asymmetry, when one half of the mole does not look like the other, but also when the border of the mole is irregular. In addition, when a mole has more than one colour or when its diameter is greater than six millimetres. Finally, when the suspicious mole increases in size, changes shape or colour - it may be time to consult an expert.

In the event of any of this, please go to see a dermatologist at HPA Health Group.