June 21, 2017

Canada’s Most Common and Preventable Cancer

Did you know that the Canadian Cancer Society identifies skin cancer as the most common form of cancer in Canada? According to Health Canada, one-third of all new cancer cases are due to skin cancer and this rate continues to rise. Skin is our body’s largest organ and it plays an important role in protecting our organs from infections, injury, dehydration, and ultraviolet (UV) rays. It also controls our body temperature through sweat and makes vitamin D. So keeping it protected has more than just skin-deep benefits!

Types of Skin Cancer

The epidermis, which is the surface layer of the skin, contains three different types of cells—basal, squamous and melanocytes—and cancer can occur in any of them.

When cancer occurs in the basal and squamous cells, it is classified as non-melanoma skin cancer. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, basal and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common forms of non-melanoma skin cancer, making up 75-80 per cent and 20 per cent of all skin cancers, respectively. Non-melanoma skin cancers often progress slowly, and the Canadian Cancer Society suggests they can usually be treated successfully, especially if detected early.

Melanocytes are the cells responsible for the pigment of the skin, eyes, and hair, and cancer occurring in these cells is called malignant melanoma or melanoma. According to Health Canada, melanoma accounts for five per cent of all skin cancers and is the most dangerous due to the rapid speed at which it can grow and invade other tissues. As a result, it is more difficult to treat once it has spread; however, it can be successfully treated, especially if caught early. The Canadian Cancer Society reports that in 2016, an estimated 6,800 Canadians will be diagnosed with melanoma and 1,200 will die from the condition.

What Can I Do?

Early detection plays an important role in the successful treatment of skin cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Dermatology Association recommend that you:

  • Know the risk factors: the Canadian Cancer Society offers comprehensive lists of risk factors for both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers.
  • Be aware of the warning signs of skin cancer: this poster from the Canadian Dermatology Association is a great reference tool for learning about the warning signs of melanoma. This information from the Canadian Cancer Society can also assist in spotting non-melanoma skin cancer.
  • Check your own skin monthly: the Canadian Cancer Society offers an informative step-by-step guide to performing self-examinations.
  • Consult with a physician if you have any concerns, and have your physician complete a skin exam as part of your yearly check-up.

The most important thing you can do to prevent skin cancer is to avoid the harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) rays. Health Canada suggests following the tips:

  • Cover your exposed skin by wearing light coloured clothing including long-sleeved shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Limit your sun exposure between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. or find a shaded place during these hours if you are outside.
  • Check the UV index on local radio stations, TV or on-line. If the UV index is three or higher, you should wear protective clothing, sunscreen, and sunglasses.
  • Use sunscreen when the UV index is three or more. For more sunscreen safety tips, visit The Government of Canada Website and search “sunscreen”.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking water before you feel thirsty. Hot weather can deplete your fluids, and staying cool and hydrated can help you avoid heat illnesses.
  • Avoid the use of tanning beds. For more information on the risks of tanning beds, visit The Government of Canada Website and search “tanning beds and lamps”.

The bottom line is that it’s possible to enjoy the summer weather while protecting your skin. Be aware of your personal risk factors, know the warning signs, check your skin and visit your physician if you have any concerns.

Article by Patricia Tallon, RD, CDE ASEBP Health Adviser and ARTA Wellness Consultant

See more articles by Patricia in ARTA’s news&views magazine

For more posts like these, visit the Physical Wellness page.