What is skin cancer?
In 95 to 99 per cent of cases, skin cancer develops when skin cells are damaged by the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. In most cases, skin cancer is preventable. However, if it does occur and is detected early, it responds well to treatment.
There are three types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma is the slowest growing and least dangerous form of skin cancer. The cancer may form a lump, be scaly, red or ulcerated. Lesions generally appear on the upper part of the body: upper torso, head and neck.
- Squamous cell carcinoma grows more rapidly, over weeks and months. Left untreated, it will spread to other parts of the body. In most cases, it first appears on areas that have received the most sun exposure. The affected skin looks thick, scaly and red.
- Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It develops over weeks and months and responds to treatment if detected early. Left unchecked, it spreads and can be deadly.
Prevention is key
In a country like Australia, where sunlight is virtually unavoidable, it’s essential to take care to protect your skin against cancer-causing UV rays. The old “slip, slop, slap” adage still applies as well!
- Slip on some protective clothing like a long-sleeved shirt with a collar.
- Slop on some SPF30+ water-resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outdoors, then reapply bi-hourly for as long as you remain outdoors. Make sure you apply it generously. Choose beauty products that offer sun protection as well. Certain foundations, moisturisers and lipsticks/glosses contain SPF30+ protection. Be particularly careful with babies and children – there are sun protection products that have been specifically developed for their delicate skin.
- Slap on a wide-brimmed hat that shades the face, ears and neck.
- Slide on a pair of sunglasses that meet Australian standards. The eyes are particularly vulnerable to skin cancer and other conditions caused by sun damage such as cataracts.
What to look for
It’s a good idea to get your skin checked every three months. Some clinics take photos of your skin so they have a record of what it looked like at your previous visit. Become familiar with all the spots and blemishes on your body and see your doctor if you notice any changes. Changes to look for include:
- Moles or freckles that have changed in size, colour or texture. Also, when itchiness or irritation develops.
- If you notice a spot that is asymmetrical.
- The border of a spot or blemish is blurred or irregular.
- The blemish contains a variety of colours or shades.
- Any growth in diameter.
- The spot may be thicker or more raised.
In most cases, skin cancers are removed. In more serious cases, radiotherapy may also be used.
Skin cancer is typically preventable, so take care to cover up when you expose yourself to the sun. Take special care with your children and seek medical attention for regular checks and if you notice any changes.
Have a blood test to check if you have adequate vitamin D levels. Vitamin D deficiency is very common and may lead to osteoporosis. Take a regular vitamin D supplement to prevent deficiency if you do not receive adequate sun exposure.