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Australia, it’s time to get serious about sun protection


Dr Andrew Miller
17 November 2017


With over 2,000 Australians dying from skin cancer each year, too many people are paying for their past sun exposure with their lives. The best way for Australians to reduce this figure is if we start using sun protection in childhood – and the best way for kids to learn is to mimic the behaviour of their parents.

That’s why this week, as part of National Skin Cancer Action Week, the Australasian College of Dermatologists and Cancer Council are urging adults to be good role models. While parents usually take care of their children, they often forget to protect themselves adequately, so we’re encouraging them to set the best example by taking appropriate care of themselves.

Part of the role of the Australasian College of Dermatologists is to provide guidance to the community on sun protection and its benefits in reducing the risk of skin cancer and premature aging. We also inform the community about the warning signs of skin cancer, how to check your own skin, and when and where to seek advice from a health professional.

Australia has a very high incidence of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma). Skin cancer is primarily a preventable cancer, and we can all take positive steps every day to reduce our risk of skin cancer. This can be done through a combination of measures: by slipping on clothing, slopping on sunscreen, slapping on a broad-brimmed hat, seeking shade, and sliding on sunglasses.

Effective sun protection allows for healthy growth and development as well as enjoyment of outdoor activities, but aims to reduce risk of skin diseases related to overexposure to sunlight. Overall, the goal of sun protection is to prevent the skin from being exposed to excessive ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It is also best to avoid being outside in the sun in the middle of the day, when UV levels are at their highest, as it is UV radiation, not the heat from the sun, that leads to DNA damage. Over a lifetime, the effect of excessive UV exposure accumulates, contributing to ageing of the skin and increasing skin cancer risk. Two types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB – both play a role in premature aging and can damage the skin’s DNA, leading to precancerous and cancerous changes.

It’s important to know your personal risk of skin cancer, and the single greatest risk factor is excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or solariums. Other risk factors include a fair complexion, increased number of common moles or unusual moles, weakened immune system, or a personal or family history of skin cancer. But remember that anyone – even those with darker skin complexions, or with no family history of cancer – are able to get skin cancer.

All Australians are urged to be familiar with their skin. Perform self-examinations of your whole body, including your scalp, hands and feet, with a hand mirror in front of a wall mirror. Look for changes in new moles and spots; existing moles which increase in size, change colour or become irregular; any mole or spot that becomes raised, lumpy, scaly or ulcerated; red moles that are firm and enlarging; any mole or spot that itches, bleeds or weeps; and any spot that looks different from the others.

While survival rates for skin cancer have improved, it’s important to notice changes sooner rather than later. The earlier a skin cancer is diagnosed and treated, the greater the chance of survival.

If you have a suspicious mole or spot, or are at high risk of skin cancer, talk to your general practitioner (GP) about getting a referral to a dermatologist. Dermatologists are specialists trained in the diagnosis and treatment of all skin diseases, including skin cancer – they have expertise in early detection and are trained to recognise and differentiate between changes in the skin that may indicate cancer. They also have specialist knowledge and experience of the broad range of approaches used to treat specific tumour types.

This summer, look after yourself and your family by using all five sun protection methods – and by setting a good example for your kids. Also remember to get your skin checked, know your skin cancer risk, and check with your GP if you need further specialist advice from a dermatologist.

Learn more about National Skin Cancer Action Week or the Australasian College of Dermatologists.



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