Skin cancer in India: Facts and prevention

145072635-1-240x240As a dermatologist in India, I regularly meet patients in pursuit of a fair, ‘gori’ skin. We are constantly frustrated and unhappy about our tendency to tan and darken easily in the sun. Yes we spend huge amounts of money, time and energy trying to prevent tanning and change our colour to a more lighter colour.

But little do we realize this dark skin and tendency to tan when our skin is exposed to sunlight is a boon for our skin. It protects and brings down the incidence of skin cancer in Indians.

The increased amount of melanin actually saves our skin from the carcinogenic effects of sunlight.

Since there is low incidence of skin cancers ,I guess we as a country are not so much aware of the problem and it is not a common point of discussion. However skin cancer is a health concern and known to occur in Indians.

There are certain thought provoking data from our medical world which I wish to share on this World Cancer Day.

Fact1 : Tropical countries like India receive higher levels of UV radiation and this increases the risk of skin cancer. In the recent years, the reduction in ozone layer in the atmosphere has led to increased UV radiation reaching the earth surface and so increases the skin cancer risk.

Fact2:  Skin cancer can occur in places which are not exposed to sun and is usually severe in intensity. Melanoma is not the only form of cancer. The other 2 forms are Basal cell carcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma and are seen frequently as malignancies in Indians.

Fact3: Indians or darker skin type have a lower incidence of skin cancer but they are also most vulnerable to develop more aggressive forms of the problem. This maybe due to the false sense of security .We often overlook the early signs of skin cancer vis-à-vis our Caucasian counterparts who are more vigilant and paranoid even about the slightest sign resembling skin cancer.

Fact4: My patients often say that “We are always indoors or in our cars, where is the sun exposure doc and so why do we need sunscreen application 365 days as you constantly love to advise”. I take this opportunity to vindicate myself. A new study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, has claimed that too much driving may increase the risk of skin cancer because of exposure to the UV rays through the car window. The same holds through when you are at home as UV light penetrates in through the windows.

So it is important that we become cancerwise and adhere to few simple steps to prevent and protect ourselves from skin cancer:

Do a monthly self examination.

While doing a monthly self -examination, look for the following:

  • Skin spots/lesions that ooze, bleed ,don’t heal or last longer than a month.
  • Any non healing ulcer, growths or sores next to trauma scars or old scars,growths on hands,soles and under the nails.
  • New or existing moles (brown,red,black,or flesh colored) that have an irregular border, change colour or shape rapidly, is asymmetrical .

Meet up with your dermatologist in case you notice or have suspicion of the above signs.

Use sunscreens with a broad spectrum coverage.
Sunscreens with a broad spectrum coverage and minimum SPF of 15 to 30 is ideally recommended by dermatologist for skin protection . Use physical sunprotection by wearing long sleeved cotton outfits , broad brimmed hats or caps and sunglasses. Avoid long term sun exposure specially the 12-4 noon time.

Eat a nutrient-rich diet.
Eat a diet rich in beta carotenoids and antioxidants to reduce the free radical damage caused by sun.

I hope when I see my patients next ,they are no longer in doubt about the use of sunscreen ! Stay cancer safe !


Dr Madhuri Agarwal
Dermatologist & Aesthetic Physician

Dr. Madhuri Agarwal is one of the leading dermatologists and aesthetic physician in the country. She is a board certified dermatologist who specialises in laser,cosmetic and surgical dermatology. Her academic qualifications include MD (Skin&VD),Sion Hospital,Mumbai University and M.D. Alternative Medicines from Indian Board of Alternative Medicines, Calcutta.

Currently she is Medical Director & CEO of Yavana Aesthetic Clinic, a complete skin and hair aesthetic centre.She is also the Chief Consultant Aesthetic and Corrective trainer for Galderma Aesthetic Academy.