“A clear day of sunshine and no clouds,” sang Danny Sanderson, summarizing nicely the fact that sunshine is good for our mood. But the price of tanning and unprotected exposure is huge, especially when it comes to the ultraviolet rays, which increase the risk of getting the deadly skin cancer – melanoma. Do light-skinned people suffer less from the disease and why is it important to take care of the skin at any age? Below are five false beliefs that we tend to attribute to the sun, and also the truth that will help you understand what you need to do to keep your skin healthy and beautiful for years.

Melanoma mainly attacks fair skin

Not exact: In 2019, 1,818 melanoma patients were diagnosed in Israel, of which 213 people died of invasive melanoma. Multiple moles and freckles, light eyes and skin are certainly a distinct risk factor, but it is not the only one. People with a family history of melanoma are indeed more exposed to the disease, but even if you were exposed to the sun for a long time or suffered from sunburn as a child, you are at such a risk. Additional risk factors that increase the risk of getting skin cancer are exposure to ultraviolet radiation, which comes mainly from the sun’s radiation, and also from artificial tanning facilities.

Our skin “remembers”

Right: Our skin does not forget past damage and in fact cancerous tumors may appear even many years after the actual exposure. Melanoma lesions look like an unusual mole, with unclear shape, color and boundaries. If you have a suspicion, even the slightest, go get tested!

Most lesions are not cancerous

True: most lesions in the biopsy turn out to be benign and not malignant. If melanoma is detected, the patient will require additional surgery to expand the margin, depending on the depth of the tumor. In more invasive melanomas, the additional tests include examining the lymph nodes, or imaging tests to detect metastases. Most melanomas are flat, and after their removal the cure rates are high. Conversely, survival rates may be lower in the case of deeper disease, especially if the disease has spread to the lymph nodes or sent metastases. In this situation, melanoma may become an aggressive disease. When a tumor is suspected, the simple treatment is a small operation under local anesthesia, in which the same point is removed, which is sent for a biopsy.

Melanoma is now easier to treat

Right: Until about 15 years ago, patients with metastatic melanoma faced a particularly bad outlook for response to treatment, or for recovery, and the chemotherapy treatments given to patients in those days did not bring any significant benefit. The statistics for the survival of metastatic melanoma patients for a period of five years reached only 5% of those diagnosed. Today, the situation is better with significant breakthroughs, such as targeted biological therapies, known to have tolerable side effects; as well as immunotherapy treatments that improve the ability of the immune system to act against the tumor cells, with a real chance of bringing about the withdrawal of the disease and a full recovery. Bottom line – from a situation where there was almost no hope for metastatic melanoma patients, today’s data show that approximately 60% of patients responded to the immunotherapy treatment with the regression of their disease and 20% responded with the complete disappearance of the melanoma.

A new fecal treatment may benefit patients

Right: For the help of immunotherapy, there is an innovative treatment technique of faecal transplantation, which is performed in a number of large institutes in the world, including the Ella Malbaum Institute for Immuno-Oncology and Melanoma at the Sheba Hospital. In the treatment, feces are taken from a patient who has recovered following immunotherapy treatment, and divided into special capsules using dedicated technology. The stool contains a composition of bacteria that, if given to another patient of the same type of cancer, may improve the effectiveness of immunotherapy. In a study conducted at the Ela Institute, about 30% of the patients who did not respond to immunotherapy treatment, responded to a treatment that combines an immunotherapy drug and a fecal transplant, until the metastatic disease completely recedes.

The golden rules for staying in the sun and preventing the development of skin cancer

  1. Wear a hat and use sunscreen with a sun filter of 30 SPF or higher – everywhere and not just at sea
  2. Be aware of the exposed areas of the body: the face, the back, the palms and feet, the arms and the nape of the neck.
  3. Avoid exposure to the sun between 10:00 and 16:00.4. When staying in the sun for a long time, apply every two hours – also in the shade – protect the children in this way as well.

The author is Dr. Guy Ben Bezalel, an oncologist specializing in skin tumors and melanoma, Ella Malbaum Institute for Immuno-Oncology and Melanoma, Sheba Tel Hashomer Medical Center.

By Editor

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