Doctors reach out to children at risk for skin cancer

Specialists from the FMHS and Tygerberg Hospital visited the Athlone School for the Blind to coach learners on sun safety and the dangers of skin cancer.
A team of specialists from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS) at Stellenbosch University (SU) and Tygerberg Hospital visited the Athlone School for the Blind (ASB) ahead of World Cancer Day (4 February) to coach learners on sun safety and the dangers of skin cancer.
 
Approximately a quarter of the learners at ASB have albinism – a hereditary condition that causes people to have no pigment in their skin, hair, and eyes. Due to their very pale complexion, people with albinism are vulnerable to sun burn and as a result are prone to developing skin cancer.
 
“In the clinic we see many people with albinism that develop skin cancer at a very young age – in their 20s or 30s. These cancers can be prevented if people with albinism practice sun safety from a young age,” said Dr Willie Visser, who heads the Division of Dermatology at the FMHS and Tygerberg Hospital. 
 
The high incidence of skin cancer among people with albinism motivated Visser and other specialists from the Skin Cancer Combined Clinic at the FMHS and Tygerberg Hospital to launch this intervention. Through a sponsorship from the skin care product manufacturer Eucerin, each child with albinism received a bottle of sun screen. 
 
They also established a partnership that will see a team of dermatologists paying regular visits to the school to screen children for possible dangerous skin lesions and provide education on skin care and sun safety. Through this partnership the ASB will also receive a regular supply of sun screen for needy learners.
 
According to Visser, part of the problem is that sun safety is not commonly practiced among the black population as darker skin provides natural protection against the sun. “When a child with albinism is born to parents that have never had to practice sun safety, the parents are often unaware of the child’s vulnerability to sun burn and don’t provide the necessary sun protection,” he said. 
 
Although people with dark skin have a measure of natural protection against the sun, Visser warned that they are not exempt from skin cancer and suggested they also practice sun safety. 
 
He provided the following tips on sun safety:
 
- Apply a high-SPF sun screen (SPF 30 or higher) every day. Reapply after you have washed, swam or perspired.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat whenever you go out in the sun. A “baseball cap” does not provide sufficient coverage as your ears and neck are still exposed to sunlight.
- Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes and eyelids. 
- Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts when going out in the sun.
- Don’t play outside in the heat of the day (between 10am and 2pm), and keep to the shade when you play outside.
 
 
Specialists from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and Tygerberg Hospital visited the Athlone School for the Blind ahead of World Cancer Day to coach learners on sun safety and the dangers of skin cancer.
Wilma Stassen