Skin cancer – prevention and early detection

The skin is the largest organ in our body. It protects us from many things such as injury, pathogens and UV rays. Sometimes the cells of the skin change. Cancer can develop from some changes. What experts recommend to protect against skin cancer and what early detection brings, you can read in this information.

At a glance

Experts recommend avoiding strong sun, protecting yourself with appropriate clothing, and using sunscreen when necessary.

Examinations for early detection

Early detection of skin cancer is offered to insured persons over 35 years of age. The examination is intended to detect cancer at an early stage so that it can be treated successfully. Whether this can prevent deaths from skin cancer has not yet been investigated in high-quality studies. It can be suspected of cancer, which later turns out to be false. It is also possible that skin cancer will be discovered that would otherwise never have been noticed and become dangerous.

Skin cancer – always dangerous?

There is light and black skin cancer. The light one occurs more frequently, but is only very rarely threatening: it leads to death in 1 out of 550 sufferers. Black skin cancer (melanoma), on the other hand, is rarer but more dangerous: about 1 in 7 sufferers die from it.

How common is skin cancer?

There are reliable figures for black skin cancer: about 20 out of every 1,000 people will develop the disease in the course of their lives. There is no reliable data for light skin cancer.

When does skin cancer develop??

Usually several causes come together when skin cancer develops. There is an increased risk with:

frequent exposure to UV rays (sunburns, number of hours in the sun)

Skin cancer in the family

frequent contact with substances such as tar, arsenic or with radioactive rays as well as X-rays

Protect yourself from skin cancer

Skin cancer cannot be prevented one hundred percent. But some behaviors can help reduce your own risk of developing the disease. The most important recommendation of experts is to protect oneself from excessive exposure to UV radiation. They advise a three-stage approach:

Avoid strong sun: Exercise in the fresh air is important and good for you. Therefore "avoid the sun" means do not "squat inside" all day long should. But if the sun is strong, it is recommended to avoid the midday sun or seek shade. Experts advise against visiting a solarium.

Protection through clothingLight, long clothing, sunglasses and headgear are helpful. Clothing blocks sun but not completely.

Sunscreen for unprotected areas of skin: It is important to use an appropriate sun protection factor, a waterproof cream and lip protection. An adult needs about 30 milliliters of cream to apply to the entire body. This is about the size of a ping pong ball.

Dietary supplements protect with vitamin A, beta-carotene or selenium not before skin cancer.

Detect skin cancer early

There is a special examination for early detection of skin cancer. Only specially trained skin and general practitioners are allowed to perform them. The doctor examines the entire skin and searches it with the naked eye for conspicuous changes. This includes the scalp, pubic area, gums, spaces between toes and soles of feet. If he finds a suspicious spot, he examines it more closely. He may cut them out and have them examined in the laboratory. In many cases the suspicion of cancer is not confirmed.

Statutory health insurance companies pay for this examination every 2 years for insured persons over the age of 35.

What is the benefit of the investigation?

Benefit: The examination should detect skin cancer at an early stage so that it can be treated successfully and worse can be prevented. The benefits of early detection of skin cancer have not yet been investigated in meaningful studies. This means that it is not yet known whether deaths from skin cancer can be prevented in this way.

Damage: Again, there is a lack of meaningful studies. What is certain is that, as a result of the examination, skin areas are also cut out that later turn out to be harmless. However, it is not clear how often this occurs: in the available studies, the figures vary from 3 to 180 false alarms per confirmed suspicion of skin cancer. The skin site may hurt and scars may form.

It is also possible that skin cancer is discovered through the examination, which would never have been noticed without early detection and would not have caused any symptoms throughout the patient’s life. Then you unnecessarily get a scary cancer diagnosis and unnecessary treatment. It is also conceivable that skin cancer may be overlooked despite careful examination. You may not take suspicious spots seriously enough because you rely too much on the examination.

What you can do yourself

When protecting yourself from the sun, also think about your children. Infant and toddler skin is particularly sensitive.

Awnings are an easy way to provide shade where children play. Speak, if necessary, school or kindergarten specifically about it.

People with immunodeficiency are slightly more likely to develop skin cancer. Also used in cases of suppressed immune system after organ transplantation. Thorough sun protection is helpful here.

Take your time to consider whether you would like to participate in the early detection of skin cancer. Weigh possible advantages and disadvantages.

If you’re unsure: Talk to your doctor and get more reliable information, such as the "Health guideline on skin cancer prevention." (see below "Explained in detail").

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