How to Avoid Melanoma and Skin Cancer: Interview with Azuree Williams of Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre


Photo by David Foley of Foley's Fotos

With the summer quickly approaching and skin care incidences continuing to rise, Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre Event and Programme Manager Azuree Williams advises women "to get regular skin care checks," now more than ever. 

Melanoma and skin cancer does not discriminate. "Cancer of the skin is by far the most common of all cancers and Melanoma accounts for only about 1% of skin cancers today." The only way to prevent the dangerous outcomes of sun exposure such as premature ageing, skin leathering and skin cancer is to educate and inform. Here's what Azuree Williams had to say about detecting and preventing melanoma and skin cancer. 


Is there a typical case in women with Melanoma and other Skin Cancers?

In Bermuda, it is difficult to say what is typical in women since we do not have the up to date statistics.  We can say that we have not seen any women treated to date locally through our Radiation Therapy unit, but several had travelled overseas for surgery and treatment before our Unit was up and running. Many women who I have seen in our Skin Analysis machine over the last four years have had significant sun damage, and some admitted they had been diagnosed with melanoma or other forms of skin cancer. 


What are some tips that can help women of Bermuda prevent and detect Melanoma and Skin Cancer? 

Skin cancer is the most preventable type of cancer, and there are fundamental measures that can be taken:

  1. SLIP on protective clothing;

  2. SLAP on a broad-brimmed hat;

  3. SLOP on SPF 30 sunscreen, with zinc oxide as the active ingredient;

  4. SEEK shade between 10 am, and 4 pm, when the UV Index is at peak and radiation levels are highest;

  5. SLIDE on wrap-around sunglasses.

These measures should be taken if someone is going to be outdoors for an extended period.  Additionally, getting regular skin checks are a must, especially if one is at high risk. Everyone should be getting an annual physical exam and during this time, should be requesting the doctor to do a skin check.  We must be vigilant with our health and not be afraid to ask as many questions as necessary to receive knowledge and understanding from our doctors.  It is important to note that it is the sun damage received as a child that puts us most at risk. One major sunburn as a child doubles one's risk of developing skin cancer when they are older.


Are women most at risk?

Young women under 30 tend to be at higher risk for melanoma and other skin cancers. This is due to the overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun or tanning beds.


Is Melanoma and Skin Cancer linked to other forms of cancer or disease?  

The most common second type of cancer seen in Melanoma survivors is another skin cancer. However, there are other cancers linked to Melanoma such as breast cancer in women, kidney and thyroid, just to name a few. There is no given reason as to why this occurs.  Studies have found a correlation in women with Melanoma and some of these cancers as second cancer.


Does your diet affect Melanoma?

Yes, diet affects melanoma as it does any other disease.  Part of our prevention messaging that we share with the community is a healthy diet, ensuring we are eating at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables daily.  Bermuda has 75% of its population as obese, and obesity is linked to cancer. There are many studies and research showing the link between our diet, being overweight and obese to many types of cancers.  Studies have found that foods rich in antioxidants and selenium can reduce melanoma risks.


Is it true that women of colour are less likely to get melanoma, but are more likely to die from it?

Skin cancer is colour-blind, and it affects every ethnic background.  However, people of colour tend to think with the high levels of melanin in their skin, they do not need sun protection and are less vigilant in protecting their skin.  Additionally, people of colour are at lower risk, but there are rare forms of skin cancer that are most common in people of African descent. People of colour have been found less likely to go for regular doctor check-ups and therefore find melanoma too late.  Melanoma has to be caught early because it spreads quickly.  When people of colour discover that they have Melanoma, it's usually at the late stage where it's too late, thus giving them a lower survival rate. 


In recent studies by BCHC, Bermuda saw a 12% higher rate of skin cancer compared to the United States. What do you think causes this and what can we do today to change it? 

At the time this statistic was delivered to the public, we had regular reports with skin cancer stats from Bermuda National Tumour Registry.  However, it is not mandatory for doctors to report cancer cases and therefore Bermuda does not have accurate stats at this current time. Skin cancer is on the rise globally, and the Surgeon General placed a call to action on Skin Cancer in the US in 2014. Bermuda is a subtropical island, and many of our residents young and old can be addicted to tanning.  Many of the older generations admit to not wearing sun protection when they were younger, and some are paying the price now, by receiving a skin cancer diagnosis. 

Learn more about Skin Cancer Prevention and Early Detection and what you might be able to do today to help lower your risks.