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30 new skin cancer cases diagnosed weekly in South Africa



30 new skin cancer cases diagnosed weekly in South Africa

According to analysis from BBC, the year 2023 has been confirmed as the warmest on record, driven by human-caused climate change and boosted by the natural El Niño weather event.

Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist at Berkeley Earth, a science organisation in the US, has also warned that this year could be warmer than 2023 – as some of the record ocean surface heat escapes into the atmosphere.

As we enter the country’s hottest month tomorrow, 1 February 2024, dermatologists have raised the alarm about the high levels of melanoma in South Africa and have cautioned the public to exercise increased caution when exposed to the sun.

Dr Jeremy O’Kennedy, a dermatologist at Morningside Mediclinic in Sandton, has warned that melanoma is a particularly dangerous form of skin cancer, and that there is a direct correlation between exposure to the sun and a heightened risk of developing it

“In my practice alone, I’m diagnosing up to 30 cases a week, which is exceptionally high by international standards. Unfortunately, official statistics are unreliable, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the incidence of melanoma in South Africa is the highest in the world; far higher than in traditionally high-risk countries like Australia and New Zealand.”

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Who is at risk of skin cancer?

Dr O’Kennedy says fair-skinned people have lower levels of melanin in their skin, which makes them more vulnerable to damage caused by the sun.

He warns, however, that people with darker skins shouldn’t be lulled into a sense of complacency.

“Many people with darker skins feel they have natural protection against the sun and, as a result, they’re careless about protecting themselves from exposure, reluctant to have regular baseline screening, and slow to seek treatment when they notice an unusual mark on their skin.”

Signs of Melanoma

Check for any visible changes to your skin as these might indicate the presence of melanoma. Although lesions can occur anywhere on the body, they are more common on the trunk in men and on the legs in women. Signs to look for are a change in the appearance of an existing mole or the development of a pigmented or unusual-looking mark or growth on your skin.

A simple way to do this is to follow the ABCDE rule:

  • Asymmetrical: Is the mole or growth uneven in appearance? Melanomas are usually uneven in appearance.
  • Border: Are the edges irregular? They usually have irregular borders.
  • Colour: Does the colour vary? They usually vary in colour.
  • Diameter: Is it larger than 6mm in diameter? They are usually larger than 6mm in diameter.
  • Evolving: Is it changing in size, shape, or colour? Evolving melanomas usually change appearance over time.

If you notice any changes to the appearance of an existing mole or any irregular and evolving marks on your skin, you should see a GP or dermatologist as soon as possible to have these checked.


Dr O’Kennedy stresses that it’s extremely important to wear sunscreen daily, especially on the exposed areas of your body, even if you are not spending long periods of time in the sun, like when you are swimming or exercising outdoors.

He also advices minimising your exposure to the sun, by keeping out of the sun completely between 10am and 2pm.

“Even before and after these ‘smart hours’, one should always wear sunscreen and seek shade whenever possible. Sunscreen should be re-applied every two hours or immediately after swimming, especially to the face, neck, hands, and ears. And, of course, we should not forget that protective clothing and bathing wear that covers the most vulnerable areas of the body – including the neck and the upper arms and legs – is still the best protection of all.”

The next line of defence is baseline screening, a routine procedure conducted using a hand held device called a dermatoscope to determine whether you have any early warning signs of melanoma.

“Everyone over the age of 18 should visit a dermatologist to have this done, says Dr O’Kennedy. He stresses that early detection vastly improves treatment outcomes, and the earliest signs of melanoma are not necessarily visible to the naked eye.

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