Doctors say people need to find the right balance between a healthy dose of sun and over-exposure, as the warm summer months begin.
Dermatologist Dr Khashayar Ghiassi also called for compulsory skin cancer check-ups, after a three-month study of 800 patients that found 1 per cent had early signs of malignant melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
“An annual five-minute skin cancer test would certainly help to save lives,” he said, although it was not common for health insurers to cover the cost of screening or mole removal.
“In Germany, everyone must go to a skin cancer screening clinic every two years. Everyone who went to a skin cancer screening clinic reduced their chance of getting malignant melanoma.”
Dr Ghiassi, of the Dubai Medical Centre, conducted the study at Dr Sulaiman Al Habib Medical Centre in Dubai Healthcare City.
He said comprehensive figures for skin cancer prevalence in the UAE were not available.
The German dermatologist also studied 10,000 people over five years in his native Dusseldorf and found 55 per cent of skin cancers were a result of exposure to the sun.
“With regular checks we could see if any moles had changed and then remove them if necessary,” Dr Ghiassi said. “As a result, the prevalence of skin cancer decreased.
“In the UAE for the past three months I have been trying to educate my patients. People need to learn what the warning signs are. If they see a mole has changed in shape or size, this is very important.
“A test takes just five minutes but it can save your life.”
One in every three cancers diagnosed globally is skin cancer, Skin Cancer Foundation statistics show.
People are advised to use suncream with a sun protection factor of at least 30, and avoid the hottest part of the day, between 10am and 4pm.
British mother Natalie Weterings, 33, has become more aware of sun exposure since having her first son, Jacob, 19 months ago.
“I became more concerned about the extra precautions I would have to take here as Jacob was born in the height of summer,” Ms Weterings said. “I knew I had to use a high SPF cream on him but I didn’t want to have to use anything with chemicals in it.
“I was probably one of the rare European mothers who kept their new baby out of the sun for 19 months.”
Between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year, according to the World Health Organisation.
“Skin cancer screening is typically covered only when the wellness benefit is selected when choosing a health insurance policy, and if this benefit does not limit the types of tests the policy covers,” said Nathalie Youwakim, head of employee benefits at the insurer Nexus Group.
Dr Fadi Mikhael, an oncologist at Mediclinic Welcare Hospital in Al Garhoud, said early diagnosis improved survival rates.
“We are seeing more and more skin cancer in the UAE due to direct sun exposure and due to the mixed population,” Dr Mikhael said.
“I believe many in the UAE are not aware about the risks. Awareness campaigns are needed to encourage the population to visit a dermatologist at least once a year.”