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How staying sun smart could save your life.

Here we give you the know-how to stay safe this summer.

Many Australians are sun safe these days thanks to the ‘Slip! Slop! Slap!’ campaign of the 1980s. Treatment has come a long way in recent years too, with breakthroughs in therapies and survival rates for the most deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma. While we are all more knowledgeable these days, it is easy to become complacent about staying sun safe. Here we talk about the various risk factors and how to protect yourself from the harsh Australian sun.

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is best described as skin cells growing out of control because their DNA is damaged. There are three main types: squamous and basal cell carcinomas, which are mostly non-life-threatening cancers, and melanoma – a serious and often fatal form of cancer. 

Melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australia., … After a biopsy confirms melanoma, surgery is used in the early stages of treatment. At this stage there is a 90 per cent chance of the cancer being cured, but when left unchecked, melanoma can spread around the body quickly.

What are the risk factors for skin cancer?

Your risk of developing skin cancers like melanoma rises with increased ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure and sunburn. Other factors that put you at risk include a weakened immune system, having fair skin and a tendency to burn or having freckles, moles and light hair.

Having a history of prolonged sun exposure and sunburn as a child or teenager, or a family history of skin cancer also puts you at higher risk of melanoma.

How do I spot a skin cancer on my skin?

Skin cancers can pop up anywhere on your body, even places that haven’t been exposed to the sun. They can appear as new moles, coloured spots or unusual freckles. Skin cancers are sometimes flat, smudgy, lumpy or crusty and can appear in more than one colour – either pearly or pale, brown, black, blue, red or grey. If you notice any changes, see your GP or dermatologist. Use ABCD to look for suspicious spots where:

  • Asymmetry, look for spots that are asymmetrical.
  • Border, look for spots with uneven borders.
  • Colour, look for spots with uneven or unusual colour.
  • Diameter, identify spots that are larger than 7mm.

How is skin cancer treated?

Treatment depends on the kind of skin cancer you have and the stage of skin cancer. In the non-melanoma cancers or early-stage melanomas, dermatologists might use surgery to remove skin cancer or in patients with more advanced melanoma more intensive treatments may be required.

Ongoing treatment may include immunotherapies, drug therapies, radiation, and chemotherapies.

Just a few years ago, patients whose melanoma had spread had a very poor prognosis with only 30-35 per cent surviving five years after diagnosis. But now, new drug therapies that block molecules involved in the growth of tumour cells as well as immunotherapies that stimulate the body’s own cells to destroy melanoma cells have tripled survival rates.

Preventing skin cancer.

Avoid complacency, often being sun safe is associated with going to the beach but that is certainly not the case. As we head into summer, it is important to be sun safe whenever you are out and about. For best protection, when the UV level is 3 or above, a combination of sun protection measures are recommended:

  • Slip on some sun-protective clothing covering as much skin as possible.
  • Slop on water resistant SPF30 sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and every two hours afterwards.
  • Slap on a hat that protects your face, head, neck, and ears.
  • Seek shade.
  • Slide on some sunglasses making sure they meet Australian standards.

Follow these protection measures and be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense. More importantly, share this article with those that may not remember the need to ‘Slip! Slop! and Slap!’