With summer now upon us, many will be looking forward to spending more time outdoors and soaking up the sunshine. While a small dose of sun is good for your health, it’s important to be aware of the dangers that come with greater sun exposure, including an increased risk of developing skin cancer. In this month’s blog, we take a closer look at the disease and the benefits of getting a regular skin check.
Skin Cancer Statistics
With our sunny weather, the world’s best beaches and outdoor lifestyle, it’s no surprise that Australia is known as the skin cancer capital of the world.
According to the Cancer Council, we have one of the world’s highest rates of skin cancer; two to three times that of Canada, the US and the UK. It is estimated that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.
Every year in Australia:
- Skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers.
- The majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun.
- Melanoma skin cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Australia, with an estimated 14,000 new cases diagnosed in 2018 and close to 2,000 deaths from the disease this year alone.
- More than 750,000 people are treated for non-melanoma skin cancers each year.
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin. It is the result of DNA damage to the skin by overexposure to UVA and UVB radiation from the sun or solariums.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma– the most common but least dangerous form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinomas generally develop on the head, neck and upper body and appear as a pearly lump or a scaly, dry area that is pale or pink in colour. They tend to grow slowly and don’t usually spread to other parts of the body.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma– usually appear on areas of the skin that are most often exposed to the sun, including the head, neck, hands, forearms and lower legs. Squamous cell carcinomas often appear as a thickened, red, scaly lump and may look like a sore that hasn’t healed. They can grow quickly over several weeks or months and spread to other parts of the body.
3. Melanoma– while it is the least common type of skin cancer, it is also the most serious. Melanomas are different to normal, healthy freckles and moles in that they tend to have an irregular edge or surface and can be blotchy and black, brown, blue, red, white or light grey. Melanomas can grow quickly and become life threatening, spreading to other parts of the body.
The good news is that over 95% of skin cancers can be treated if found early.
What are the symptoms?
Not all skin cancers look the same. However, there are some common signs to look out for. These include:
- A spot that is different from other spots on the skin.
- A spot, mole or freckle that has changed in size, shape or colour.
- A sore that doesn’t heal.
- A spot that itches or bleeds.
- A spot that is painful or swollen.
In the case of melanomas, the ABCDE rule applies and you should look closely for:
- Asymmetry – where, if divided down the middle, the 2 halves of the spot are not a mirror image.
- Border – spots with uneven borders and irregular edges.
- Colour – spots with an unusual or uneven colour.
- Diameter – spots that are wider than 6mm.
- Evolving – where a spot or lesion has changed in size, shape, colour or texture over time.
Most people living in Australia are at risk of developing skin cancer due to the amount of sun exposure experienced in day-to-day life.
You are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer if you have:
- Fair skin that burns easily and does not tan.
- Blue or green eyes and/or fair or red hair.
- Suffered sunburn as a child.
- Spent your childhood in Australia.
- A large number of freckles or moles.
- A family or personal history of skin cancer.
- Used a solarium.
- Worked or spent a lot of leisure time in the sun.
In addition, males are more likely to develop melanoma, as are those over the age of 50.
There are a number of ways you can stay safe in the sun and help avoid developing skin cancer. These include:
- Wearing protective clothing.
- Applying water-resistant SPF30 or higher sunscreen, at least 20 minute before going outside and reapplying every two hours.
- Wearing a broad-brimmed, bucket, or legionnaire-style hat.
- Reducing outdoor time, particularly during the hottest part of the day, and staying in the shade when outdoors.
- Wearing sunglasses that comply with Australian and New Zealand standards.
- Becoming familiar with your own skin and undertaking regular skin checks, either through self-monitoring or by your GP or dermatologist.
Get your skin checked at IMC
Illawarra Medical Centre offers a comprehensive range of dermatology services, including skin cancer checks, mole screening and general dermatology screenings.
Dr Dhruva Ramachandra runs regular skin cancer and dermatology checks at our practice on Tuesday mornings.
To make an appointment for one of these clinics, contact our Reception on (08) 9208 6400.
Where can I find out more information?
For more information on this topic, visit:
- The Australasian College of Dermatologists – https://www.dermcoll.edu.au/atoz/skin-cancer-overview/
- Australian Government Cancer Australia – https://melanoma.canceraustralia.gov.au/home
- Australian Medical Association – https://ama.com.au/media/stay-sun-safe-summer-avoid-skin-cancer
- Cancer Council Australia – https://www.cancer.org.au/about-cancer/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer.html
- SunSmart – http://www.sunsmart.com.au