Almost all skin cancers are caused by overexposure to UV radiation from the sun (sunburn), as well as solariums. If the body is unable to repair this damage, the cell can begin to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way, becoming cancerous. UV rays are always present, and are more intense over Australia. Your skin is constantly at risk to UV rays, even on cool or overcast days.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia, and Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer.
- have a previous diagnosis of skin cancer or melanoma?
- have a family history of skin cancer or melanoma?
- have a large number of moles on your skin?
- have skin that burns easily or a history of bad sunburns?
- spend a lot of time, or work, outdoors?
- sun-bake or use solariums?
If you fall into to one or more of these categories, we recommend that you have your skin checked regularly and follow our guide to preventing skin cancer below.
Early detection and treatment significantly reduces the risk of skin cancer spreading to other parts of the body. Skin cancer is largely preventable, and prevention is always the best cure.
Apply SPF 30+ sunscreen
Use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30+. Make sure your sunscreen is broad spectrum that protects against UVA and UVB. Both these types of UV radiation are damaging. If you will be swimming, ensure your sunscreen is water-resistant and reapply after leaving the water. Apply sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply every two hours. Sunscreen should be used in combination with other forms of protection, for example, protective clothing or shade.
Wear protective clothing
Choose clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Some clothing is specifically designed with a high UV protection factor (UPF), to better protect your skin. Wear a broad-brimmed hat that covers your face, nose, ears and neck. Sunglasses should be worn outside during daylight hours. Choose close-fitting sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard. Sunglasses are as important for children as they are for adults, and together with a broad-brimmed hat can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98 per cent.
Avoid direct sun
Staying in the shade is an effective way to reduce sun exposure. If there is no shade available, such as when you are at the beach, you can always take your own sun-shade. Ensure that the sun-shade creates enough dark shadow that covers you comfortably. UV radiation can still be reflected from nearby surfaces (sand, pathways, water) so even when in the shade, you will still need to wear sunscreen and wear protective clothing.
Be UV aware
UV radiation is made up of UVA and UVB rays. Both of which penetrate the skin and cause permanent damage to the cells below. UVA penetrates deeper layers of the skin, causing genetic damage to cells, and accelerates ageing skin. UVB penetrates into the top layer of the skin causing damage to the cells and is responsible for sunburn.
We like to remember it like this: UV ‘A‘ for ageing and UV ‘B‘ for burning. As both forms of UV contribute to sunburn, ageing, eye damage, melanoma and other skin cancers, a broad spectrum sunscreen is essential.
UV levels are most intense between 10AM and 2PM. Check the weather forecast for updated UV intensity. Solariums or sun beds also emit harmful levels of UV radiation, which can be up to five times as strong as the summer midday sun. Check the Bureau of Meteorology for the current UV levels in your area or alternatively, you can download the SunSmart mobile app here.
Get a skin check
Have your skin checked regularly by a qualified skin cancer practitioner, GP or Dermatologist. Early detection and treatment significantly reduces the risk of skin cancer spreading to other parts of the body.
Between your appointments, take care to notice any unusual skin changes, especially:
- A mole or any lesion that has changed in colour, size or shape
- A lesion that bleeds or does not heal
Our friendly staff are always happy to answer any questions you may have regarding this. Please feel free to contact us by phone or email a request for an appointment online now.
We recommend that you check your skin at least every 3 months using using the ABCD rule below. Become familiar with your skin, and ask a friend, partner or relative to help you check areas that are hard to see, such as your back. Forgotten areas are also the scalp, behind ears, hands, bottom of feet and between fingers and toes. You may even like to take photos of anything suspicious. This will help you to keep track of any changes and can be shown to your doctor when you have your skin checked. Skin cancers mostly appear as a new and unusual looking spot. They may also appear as an existing spot that has changed in colour, size or shape. If you notice any rapid changes, it is extremely important that you see your doctor immediately.
The ABCD guide to Self-Checking:
- Asymmetry: Look for spots that are asymmetrical, when one half of the spot doesn’t match the other
- Border: Look for spots with uneven borders
- Colour: Look for spots with an unusual or uneven colour. May be blotchy and more than one colour – brown, black, blue, grey or red
- Diameter: Look for spots that are growing and changing in size
- Evolving: Look for changes in size, shape, colour, elevation, bleeding, itching or crusting
If you, or your doctor are concerned about a spot, but do not think it matches the ABCD criteria, it is still appropriate to book a skin check. There are spots that do not always match typical criteria of a Skin Cancer or Melanoma.