Skin cancer: prevention is the key

3,000 people in Switzerland are diagnosed with malignant melanoma (skin cancer) every year. Most is caused by UV rays from sunlight exposure. To protect yourself, sunbathe with care, use sun protection – and have regular dermatologist check-ups.

11.07.2023 Nina Merli 4 minutes

Early detection can save lives

The sun’s rays have positive effects on people: they encourage metabolic processes, lift your mood, boost vitamin D production and help you relax. If, however, you expose yourself to too much sun, its ultraviolet rays can be damaging in both the short and long term. More and more people today are suffering from skin problems brought on by sunlight. Between 50 and 70 per cent of skin cancer cases result from too much exposure to the sun. Other risk factors include genetic predisposition, light skin tone and the number of pigmented lesions.

As sunlight can do damage even without sunburn occurring, we often underestimate the sun. Sunscreen with a high UVA and UVB protection factor is absolutely essential, as is UV protection from the right clothing. Regular mole checks or a skin cancer screening with a dermatologist are key to detecting skin cancer at an early stage. If it’s discovered early, the chances of recovery are higher.

How do skin screenings work?

During a skin screening, the dermatologist examines the entire skin from head to toe. Areas such as the scalp, ears, armpits, genitals and the skin between the toes are also checked. Remember to avoid using nail varnish before attending the skin screening because skin cancer can also occur under the nails. Who covers the costs of a skin cancer screening in Switzerland? Where there is an increased family risk of skin cancer (melanoma), the costs will be covered by basic insurance.

Why you should check your moles

During skin cancer screenings with dermatologists, moles are given particular attention. That’s because malignant melanoma, also referred to as black skin cancer, often looks similar to a birthmark or mole. Dermatologists apply the ABCDE rule here.

Keep an eye on your moles with the ABCDE rule

To spot melanoma, it’s absolutely vital to examine yourself regularly. The ABCDE rule helps to distinguish a mole from melanoma: if any one of the five points apply for a mole, you should see a doctor.

  • A: Asymmetrical: a mole that is not round or oval in shape
  • B: Border: the edges are irregular or blurry
  • C: Colour: a mole that has different colours (brown, red, white, etc.)
  • D: Diameter: a mole that changes size, shape, colour or thickness quickly
  • E: Evolving: the mole isn’t flat but protrudes above the level of the surrounding skin

Remember: the ABCDE rule can provide important clues but it’s no substitute for a regular medical check-up. Noticing that a mole you have had for a long time has changed – i.e. it has grown in size or changed shape or colour – could also be a cause for concern. The same applies if you are experiencing itchiness in this area or the spot is bleeding. If this is the case, you must consult your doctor.

Are you at higher risk of it than most people?

The following characteristics determine whether you are at higher risk of skin cancer:

  • You’ve got very light skin colouring with freckles, light-coloured eyes and blond or red hair
  • You regularly get sunburn and tan only slightly or not at all
  • You have already suffered serious sunburn or were exposed to a great deal of sunlight in your childhood or youth
  • There is a history of melanoma or of other types of skin cancer in your family
  • You have lots of moles, some of which are bigger than 6 mm in diameter or vary in shape or colour
  • You have a weakened immune system as a result of a medical treatment such as immunosuppressive therapy following an organ transplant or chemotherapy

People at higher risk of skin cancer should have their skin examined by a specialist every other year or annually. If a mole is causing you concern, ask a dermatologist about it.

How do you protect yourself from the sun?

Avoid the afternoon sun between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Avoid exposure to the sun when it’s at its strongest.

Stay in the shade if you can

Expose children to as little direct sunlight as possible: 80 per cent of all skin damage caused by the sun occurs by the age of 18. Sunglasses, a hat and a UV shirt are the best protection, especially for sensitive children’s skin.

Protect with clothing and a hat

Textiles, sunglasses and a head covering offer protection against UV rays. There is now wide range of clothing with special UV protection.

Repeated sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer. Read how to avoid sunburn and what home remedies you can use to treat it.

Treat sunburn: everyday home remedies

Keep applying sunscreen

UUse sunscreen with a very high protection factor (50+) to protect yourself against UVB and UVA rays. Remember to reapply it every two hours, and wear sunglasses and a hat. Find out more about Sun Protection (PDF, 239KB) (in German). 

Although modern sun protection products work instantly, you need to apply them before sunbathing.

While skin cancer is widespread in Switzerland, there is no cause for concern as the death rate has remained constant over the past 20 years – not least due to the growing attention paid to the disease. Thanks to early detection, skin cancer can be treated effectively, so it’s well worth taking care to protect your skin and undergo regular examinations.

Find out all about skin cancer

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