The DNA in skin cells can be damaged by prolonged exposure to UV light. (File Photo: Pixabay)
Skin cancer development is significantly influenced by UV exposure. If people do not take the required precautions to protect themselves from the sun's ultraviolet radiation, it can lead to cancer. Ultraviolet (UV) rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum emitted by the sun, and they can also come from artificial sources like tanning beds. UVA, UVB, and UVC are the three kinds of UV radiation. UVC is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere and does not reach the surface, so it is not a significant factor in skin cancer development. UVA and UVB radiation, however, can cause damage to the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.
The DNA in skin cells can be damaged by prolonged exposure to UV light. Damage to the DNA can result in mutations that interfere with the proper regulation of cell growth and division. These mutations have the potential to multiply over time and give rise to malignant cells.
UVB radiation is more potent than UVA in causing direct DNA damage. It primarily affects the outer layers of the skin and is a significant contributor to sunburns. UVB radiation is a known carcinogen strongly linked to the development of melanoma (the most dangerous form of skin cancer) and non-melanoma skin cancers like basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Although less potent in causing direct DNA damage, UVA radiation can still contribute to skin cancer development. UVA rays can penetrate deeper into the skin, causing premature ageing, wrinkles and suppressing the immune system's ability to protect against cancerous cells. UVA exposure can also enhance the harmful effects of UVB radiation.
It's crucial to remember that a person's lifetime skin cancer risk increases with time. The risk can be significantly improved by intermittent, severe exposure, such as sunburns in early childhood or prolonged sun exposure when engaging in outdoor activities. However, even chronic exposure to lower levels of UV radiation over time can also lead to the development of skin cancer. It is crucial to take preventive measures to protect against the harmful effects of UV radiation and reduce the risk of skin cancer. These include:
• Seeking shade: When the sun's rays are strongest (usually between 10 am and 4 pm), it is advisable to stay in the shade, especially if the UV index is high.
• Wearing protective clothing: Wearing long-sleeved shirts, breathable clothing, hats, and sunglasses with UV protection can help shield the skin and eyes from direct UV exposure.
• Applying sunscreen: Using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher on exposed skin, even on cloudy days, can provide an additional layer of protection. Reapplication is essential, especially after swimming or sweating.
• Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of water to keep your skin hydrated and help maintain its natural protective barrier.
• Protect Children: Children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of UV radiation. Don’t let them play outdoors when the temperature is high.
• Regular skin examinations: Being vigilant about changes in the skin, such as new moles, growths, or unusual spots, and promptly consulting a healthcare professional for evaluation is crucial in detecting skin cancer at its early stages.
Understanding the role of UV radiation and adopting sun-safe behaviours can help reduce the risk of skin cancer. By practising sun protection habits, individuals can enjoy outdoor activities while safeguarding their skin health.
By - Dr. Pranav Shah, Sr. Consultant - Radiation Oncology, HCG Cancer Centre, Vadodara