About Skin Cancer

What is Skin Cancer?

Skin Cancer is the most common type of cancer in Australia. Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world where 2 out of 3 will develop skin cancer during their lifetime. Over 1500 Australians die of skin cancer each year. Anyone can get skin cancer, but the risk is greatest for people who are fair skinned, or with a family history of skin cancer, or who live in Australia!

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun is the main cause of skin cancer. Artificial sources of UVR, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, can also cause skin cancer. Australia receives high amounts of UVR and this accounts for its high rate of skin cancer. Skin cancer is related to lifetime exposure to UVR. Most skin cancer appears later in life, but the sun's damaging effects begin at an early age.

How Do I Prevent Skin Cancer?

Prevention is better than cure. Sun protection should start in childhood to prevent skin cancer later in life. It is important to note that on a moderately cloudy day, the risk of sunburn is almost the same as a cloudless day. Even if you are in the shade, sun can reflect off other surfaces to cause sunburn. Aside from protection, early detection is the most important factor in reducing the morbidity and mortality from skin cancer.

Which Sunscreen Should I Use?

Sunscreens can block out the sun's harmful rays. Sunscreens are rated in strength according to a sun protection factor (SPF). We recommend that in Australian conditions, you use an SPF 30+ block (which means that it allows only 1/30th of the sun's rays through) that is also broad spectrum, and 4 hour water resistant. It is a myth that dark-skinned people do not need sunscreen. Everyone should use sunscreen even if they do not burn easily in the sun.

Despite any labelling of “water proof” or “all day protection”, you should apply the sunscreen 15 minutes BEFORE going out in the sun, and reapply sunscreen again 15 minutes after entering the sun. You should reapply the sunscreen again if removed by water, towel drying, perspiration or after about 2 hours in the sun. Sunscreen alone is not adequate to fully protect you, and should be used in conjunction with other sun protection measures (see How Do I Prevent Skin Cancer?)

What are the Types of Skin Cancer?

The most commons types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, sometimes together called non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC). NMSC can occur anywhere on the skin (although mainly on exposed sites such as head, neck and arms) and have a varied appearance, such as a small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump, sore, ulcer or scaly patch of skin which is new, grows, or changes in shape or colour, or that does not heal within a few weeks. Sometimes, the lump bleeds or develops a crust.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common skin cancer accounting for more than 75% of all skin cancers in Australia. It is a slow growing cancer that seldom spreads to other parts of the body, and is easily treated if found early. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is less common representing 20% of Australian skin cancers. SCCs rarely spread, but it does so more often than BCCs. It can be lethal if not treated early.

What is Melanoma?

Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, and the most common cancer cause of death in young Australians under 40. It occurs when melanocytes (pigment cells of the skin) become malignant. Melanoma can occur on any part of the skin. In men, it is most often found on the trunk, and in women, most often on the legs. The chance of developing Melanoma increases with age, but it affects people of all age groups.

Melanoma can be cured if it is diagnosed and treated at an early stage. However, if detected late, cancer cells may grow deeper and potentially spread (or metastasise) to other parts of the body. Melanoma is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in Australia. The first sign of a melanoma is a CHANGE in the size, shape or colour in an existing mole or the appearance of a NEW mole.

UVP Rated Clothing - What Does It Mean?

The sun emits different types of radiation. This is mainly visible (light) and infrared (heat). Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is also emitted but it cannot be seen or felt. It can cause sunburn and other skin damage (including skin cancers). Covering our skin with clothing or shade reduces accumulation of exposure. A fabric with an Ultraviolet Protection (UVP) factor of 20 will allow 1/20 (5%) of UVR to pass through, or in other words, block 95% of the UVR. Tightly woven and heavier weight fabrics are more effective. Darker colours usually block more UVR. UV protection is reduced if a garment is overstretched, wet, or worn out. Loose fitting clothing is usually more protective than tight fitting clothing.

A UVP rating of 40 is described as giving excellent protection and will block 97.5% of UVR. The Australian/New Zealand Standard for Sun Protective Clothing states that the highest UVP rating for garments is 50. Those with higher rating are labelled 50+.

Prevent Skin Cancer:

  • • Slip on a long-sleeved shirt
  • • Slop on broadspectrum sunscreen
  • • Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
  • • Sit in the shade during the midday sun (10am to 2pm EST, or 11am to 3pm DST)
  • • Sunglasses with 100% UV protection for the eyes
  • • Skin checked regularly and when you are worried about a spot

about skin cancer