With South Africa’s sizzling summer season already making (heat) waves, now’s the time to invest in factor 50+ sunscreen and cover up! SA’s skin cancer incidence rate for melanomas ranks alongside Australia’s, with a startling lifetime risk of 1 in 50.
Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam, says, “It’s not surprising that we have one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world, considering we have one of the highest UV exposure indexes and an active lifestyle that inevitably involves prolonged sun contact. This translates to us ranking third (Australia and New Zealand take top spots) in longevity studies for high mortality experiences due to skin cancer.”
Although cancer is the worst-case outcome for prolonged sun contact, many other costly health issues can arise. Dr Dagmar Whitaker – president of the Melanoma Society of South Africa, vice president of the World Melanoma Society and immediate past president of the Dermatological Society SA – says, “A good factor 50+ sunscreen usually costs between R150 and R300. The cost of reversing sun-caused skin complications can be anything from R390 to R40 000.
Three blistering sunburns are enough to irreversibly change your genetic information in the skin cell and cause skin cancer later in life. The most common areas to find a Basal cell carcinoma, for example, are the face, back and nose, in particular.”
Whitaker says that 80% of one’s lifetime damage happens in the first 20 years of one’s life, when the skin is growing at a rapid rate and most susceptible to damage. Morkel agrees and adds, “You should not think that just because you had little sun exposure as a child, you are safe as an adult. As proof of this: there are many people who move from a less sun exposed area to a sunnier environment, and only have significant sun exposure as an adult, who also develop skin cancer – so exposure matters, irrespective of age, although you are already creating a poor outcome in children by exposing them to the sun.”
The big risks of not wearing sunscreen? Dr Whitaker lists them as:
Ageing of the skin and pigmentation, especially in darker skin types
The development of moles in early childhood (first 20 years of your life) – statistically the greater the number of moles, the higher your chances to get a melanoma
Chronic inflammatory disorders/ allergies like eczema
Dr Whitaker outlines the average cost of the most common treatments for sun-caused damage below:
Burning sun-spots: Cryotherapy would usually cost approximately R890, plus the consultation – currently R810.
Reversing pigmentation/ accelerated skin ageing: This ranges from hydroquinone to laser and needling – so from about R1 500 to R4 000 per visit – usually done yearly.
Removing moles: About R390 per mole, plus the R810 cost of consultation. Sometimes, mole mapping is required, at R650 per visit.
Skin cancer (without medical aid and dread disease cover): skin cancer in the early stages gets treated with Photo Dynamic Therapy (PDT), which is R3 020 per treatment and usually requires two treatments or surgery, which is approximately R450 per lesion plus the cost of materials used and the consultation fee, which brings the expense to around R2100 for two lesions.
If necessary, plastic surgery can cost in the region of R8 000 to R10 000, while Mohs (microscopically controlled) surgery can cost anything up to R40 000 per skin cancer. But one must consider that skin cancer often occurs in multiple places, so the costs are considerable!
The best protection against the cost of sun-caused skin scares?
Dr Whitaker says sun protection has to be a combination of sun protective clothing – which is most important – and sunscreen on all uncovered areas (face, ears, hands, forearms and chest, etc.). Sun protective pills are nowhere near clinical use and should never replace sunscreen and sun protective clothing, although they may provide an additive benefit as they contain antioxidants, which protect the cells from damage in general. Make sure the sunscreen you select has enough UVB and UVA protection and is not lower than SPF 50. Avoid unnecessary sun exposure at the hottest time of day, between 10h00 and 14h00.
Additionally, make sure your insurance is up-to-date. Dr Morkel says that last year, Sanlam paid out R8.9 million in claims for skin cancer. She advises that people invest in dread disease cover, “Dread disease covers the diagnosis that causes a bump in the road of life.
Sanlam offers comprehensive severe illness cover and a unique cancer-only benefit that covers: all stages of malignant melanoma from stage I to IV; basal cell skin carcinoma or squamous cell skin carcinoma (stage I or II), having undergone a skin graft or skin flap; and all non-melanoma skin cancer, diagnosed as stage III or IV.”