Skin Cancer…you’ve heard of it, you’ve looked at your moles with suspicion, thinking you’ll see the dermatologist about them when you ’get around to it’….but did you know that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australia. 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.
Skin cancer is the only cancer you can actually see and most skin cancers are preventable. According to the Australian Cancer Council, Between 95 and 99% of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to the sun —and for your children, regular sun protection throughout childhood can reduce the risk of skin cancer by up to 80%. Here’s what you should know.
There are basically two types of skin cancer—lethal and disfiguring.
The lethal kind is melanoma. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in an existing mole that turns malignant. For men, melanoma most often appears on the trunk, head or neck; for women, it most often develops on the arms or legs. The vast majority of mutations found in melanoma are caused by ultraviolet rays.
Melanoma accounts for about 3% of skin cancer cases, however, it causes more than 75% of skin cancer deaths. If it is recognised and treated early, it is nearly 100% curable. But if it is not, the cancer can advance, penetrating the skin, entering the bloodstream, and spreading to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal.
It’s important to get to know your skin very well to recognise when any changes in the moles on your body appear. What to look for—the ’ABCDE’s’ of melanoma if you see one or more, make an appointment with your dermatologist immediately.
· Asymmetry: if you draw a line through a mole and the two halves do not match
· Border: the borders of an early melanoma tend to be uneven, the edges may be scalloped or notched.
· Colour: having a variety of colours is a warning signal
· Diameter: melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the size of the eraser on a pencil
· Evolving: any change—in size, shape, colour, elevation, or another trait or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting—can point to danger
Prompt action is your best protection against melanoma.
The other kinds of skin cancer—Basal-cell carcinoma and Squamos-cell carcinoma—can be disfiguring.
Basal-cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, affecting about 434,000 Australians each year. These cancers arise in the basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the top skin layer. Basal–cell carcinomas occur on parts of the body excessively exposed to the sun—especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, and back. On rare occasions, BCC tumors can develop on unexposed areas.
Squamos-cell carcinoma, the second most common skin cancer, develops in the squamos cells that make up most of the skin’s upper layers (epidermis). Squamos-cell carcinomas are most common in areas frequently exposed to sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, bald scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs; however, it can occur on all areas of the body.
Both, basal–cell carcinomas and squamos-cell carcinomas are easily treated and cause minimal damage, if detected at an early stage. The larger the tumor has grown, however, the more extensive the treatment needed. Although these skin cancer seldom spreads, they can damage surrounding tissue sometimes causing considerable destruction and disfigurement.
Skin cancers are on the rise, no matter your age or skin colour—each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer.
Here’s a few tips for prevention:
· Avoid the sun between 10am and 4pm. The sun’s rays are strongest during this period—even in winter or when its cloudy.
· Wear sunscreen everyday year-round. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15; look for ingredients such as titanium dioxide and mexoryl, they do a better job of blocking UVA rays.
· Wear protective clothing, a broad-brimmed hat, and don’t forget sunglasses.
· Be aware of sun-sensitising medications.
· Avoid tanning beds and tan-accelerating agents.
· Check your skin regularly and report changes to your doctor.
Visit the Cancer Council – www.cancer.org.au for more.