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Patient Case Manager

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Can Asians get skin cancer?

Contributed by : Dr. Grace Tan Hwei Ching
General Surgeon and Surgical Oncologist

Skin Cancer

In Asia, having fair skin is beautiful. I know because my friends and I, only talk about using sunblock lotion when we discuss our beauty regime. But protecting our skin from excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays is important for people of all race and ages.

Studies have consistently shown a direct association between sun exposure and melanoma, a deadly skin cancer.

Melanoma is not as common here in Singapore as it is in countries in the West. But it is the most dangerous skin cancer due to its ability to spread. The other types of skin cancer are the squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and basal cell carcinomas (BCC).

While fair-skinned people tend to have a higher risk of getting skin cancer, it is a common myth that darker skin tones do not get skin cancer.  In fact there are certain types of melanomas, which individuals who have darker skin tones are at higher risk of getting. 

Other risk factors also include age, family history and history of atypical moles. People with first degree relatives who have melanomas are at increased risk of having melanomas themselves. In addition, the more moles on the body, the greater one’s risk for melanoma. Having atypical moles, also known as dysplastic nevi also increases the risk of melanomas.

The good news is, early detection and treatment of skin cancer can cure most melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.

At an early stage, surgery is usually all that is needed for treatment. However, when skin cancer spreads to other parts of the body, it cannot be cured by simply removing the affected mole and will require more extensive surgery or additional treatment like chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy.

When checking suspicious moles, use the “ABCDE” rule:

A for asymmetry: If you were to separate the mole down the middle, would the left and the right sides look the same?

B for border: Are the edges blurry and ill defined?

C for colour: Does the mole look darker or lighter than usual? Does it bleed when scratched?

D for diameter: Is the mole larger than 6mm across?

E for elevation: Does it have a raised or irregular surface?

If you notice any of the above changes, you should seek medical advice as soon as possible.