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    Oct 02, 2014

    Be skin smart, says doctor as skin cancer cases rise

    SLIP, slop, slap is a well-known expression in Australia, used in its campaign to get citizens to protect themselves against skin cancer.

    But this drive to get people to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat could soon become part of Singaporeans' psyche too.

    This, after an expert revealed that skin cancer is on the rise on our sunny isle.

    "People are living longer and seeing the effects of sun damage," said 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."

    The number of such cancer cases here has risen by about 60 per cent 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 excessive exposure to harmful ultraviolet or UV 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 that among Malays and Indians, said Dr Cheng. This is because people who are darker have more skin pigment, which offers a natural protection against UV rays.

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

    Chong Wei Sheng, senior consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre, said the rise in the number of 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 by wearing UV-protective clothing and use sunscreen, which should be applied 20 to 30 minutes before going outdoors.

    People should be "skin smart" and examine themselves once a month for persistent irregular growths, especially if the growths are getting larger rapidly, she said, adding: "It may be a sign that the cancer is aggressive."

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