Australians are blessed with sunshine. We have a climate that allows us to live and pursue an active, outdoor lifestyle. However, we are also cursed with a giant hole in the ozone layer above us and our skin cancer rates are the highest in the world. We’ve all heard the ‘slip, slop, slap’ rule for living in our Australian climate, but there is so much more we can be doing to ensure that our skin remains healthy and cancer-free.
About Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the skin. There are 3 forms of skin cancer; basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, and 2 of every 3 Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before they turn 70. Over 750,000 cases of basal and squamous cell carcinoma are treated every year, while 14,000 are diagnosed with melanoma. Those who have fair skin, freckle instead of tanning, experience short and intense exposure to UV radiation, actively tan, work outdoors, and have red hair, blue or green eyes, and have a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of skin cancer.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you think you have skin cancer, or if you’re feeling unsure about a mole or freckle, visit your GP for initial tests. You may then be referred to a specialist for further testing. You will then receive a physical examination, where a doctor examines your skin, and possibly a biopsy where a small amount of tissue is removed to be examined by a pathologist. If you do have skin cancer, there are many treatments depending on the type, size, and location of the cancer. Options include; surgery, cautery, cryotherapy, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, and radiotherapy. It is best to diagnose early to ensure that there is no spread of cancer throughout the body.
What to Look for
When examining your body for skin cancer, take note of any moles and freckles on your body. Any new, changed, or oddly shaped moles and freckles should be examined by a doctor as soon as possible. Be sure to check between fingers and toes, behind your ears, on your scalp, and at the back of your neck. Better yet – have a partner, friend, or family member help you and have them keep you accountable for any changes in your skin. Do the same for them and help each other stay on top of any health concerns.
Prevention Over a Cure
Understanding that prevention is better than a cure is crucial moving forward – it is easier to prevent cancer from occurring than it is to remove cancer that is already formed. Thanks to advancements in clothing design and beauty products, many sports shirts, moisturisers, and sunscreens carry an SPF50+ rating. When it comes to prevention, there are 5 key things you can incorporate into your day to day life to help reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
This one is a bit obvious, but it is also the most important. Many people know to put sunscreen on, but not what kind of sunscreen to look for or how to apply it. You should be purchasing SPF30+ and above for daily wear, with at least an SPF15+ on your face. These sunscreens should have both UVA and UVB protection, and you should look for the Cancer Council approval logo on the bottle. This ensures that you’re getting a product that meets Australian standards. You should also be reapplying your sunscreen every 3 hours, after swimming, and more frequently in hot and sweaty weather.
A hat is a great way to help shield your face from the sun’s harmful rays. Many people look at caps and visors to protect them from the sun, not realising that these designs often leave the top of the head and the ears exposed to UVA and UVB rays. If you want better protection, opt for a full brim or something that covers your ears and the back of your neck. These are areas we often miss when checking ourselves for any changes in our skin, and are the areas we often forget about when being sun smart. Get them covered and keep yourself safe!
It is best to stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day – not just to beat the heat, but also to avoid higher UVA and UVB exposure. When the sun is at it’s most intense, we are the most at risk. Try to keep your outdoor activities to the early morning and late afternoon, avoiding the midday weather in order to help avoid skin cancer.
The thought of long sleeves in hot weather often puts people off, but developments in textiles have seen lightweight, sun-safe fabrics enter the market. More often than not, having your skin covered by a light, UVA/UVB resistant fabric is cooler than exposing yourself directly to sunlight. Many sports stores will carry SPF50+ rated shirts in a variety of designs. They’ll keep you stylish, cool, and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer.
Part of prevention is getting help. We should be checking ourselves for any changes to our skin on a regular basis – at least once a week – but often we can miss things. This is why it’s so important to visit a doctor regularly. On their website, the Cancer Council suggests screenings at annual visits for low-risk patients and every 6 months for high-risk. Many GP’s support the six-monthly visit as it doesn’t hurt to be safe. If there is something wrong, you give your doctor the best opportunity to catch it in its early stages and help you get on with your life with minimal interference.
Ultimately, leaving cancer alone can cause it to become significantly worse. What you see on the surface is rarely the full picture, and most cancers extend below the skin. These cancers typically continue to grow, so if you want a smaller scar and a faster recovery it is best to get it removed early. A scar is often the best-case scenario for untreated cancers, as they can migrate to other parts of the body. Not only do you risk your skin, but you risk the rest of your body. This is why regular and timely checks are encouraged.