Doctors shed light on skin cancer risk

The attraction of the sun in the Swiss mountains can be fatal Keystone

Swiss dermatologists have launched a prevention campaign to raise awareness of skin cancer, the most common form of the disease.

This content was published on May 15, 2006

Switzerland's rate of skin cancer is among the highest in the world, having increased by 30 per cent over the past decade, with 15,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

To combat the disease, dermatologists, the Swiss Cancer League and Federal Health Office have launched "Skin Cancer Week" beginning today, offering residents free-of-charge screening of their moles.

"Switzerland is unfortunately near the top of the skin cancer table, second only to Norway," Reinhard Dummer, the leading dermatologist at Zurich University hospital told swissinfo.

"Sunshine provides warmth and can improve your mood but the ultra-violet rays do great damage to the skin," said Dummer. Of the 15,000 people diagnosed with skin cancer each year, 1,600 are found to have the deadliest form which are malignant tumours known as melanoma.

It is not known why Switzerland has such a high incidence, but Dummer said it could be because ultra-violet rays reach a high intensity in summer, particularly in the Swiss Alps meaning mountain hikers are as much at risk as holidaymakers at the beach.

Skin cancer kills

Skin cancer kills more than 200 people a year in Switzerland. But if diagnosed early enough, the disease can be cured in up to 90 per cent of the cases.

"Thin tumours can be treated with a simple operation, so there is reason for optimism but at the same time, it's a real shame that so many people have to die," Dummer continued.

The campaign is focusing on the importance of an early diagnosis of melanoma and raising awareness of the need for sun protection.

Between five and ten per cent of the Swiss population are believed to be high-risk candidates. They are people who have either light skin, suffered bad sunburns as children, are often exposed to intensive ultra-violet rays or have a family history of skin cancer.

Dummer said most of the new medications brought onto the market to combat cancerous cells have proved ineffective so far but he is hopeful a breakthrough is not far off.

Other treatment methods, such as vaccinations and gene therapy to strengthen the immune system are in the development stage.


Key facts

Around 15,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year in Switzerland.
Included are 1,600 cases of melanoma, the deadliest form of the disease.
The prevention campaign runs from May 15-19 across Switzerland.

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