Skin cancer cases are on the rise, especially in geographical areas where people are often overexposed to the dangerous UV rays. In Australia, the statistics are overwhelming, as it is estimated that 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma by the age of 70.
“Fortunately, when it comes to skin cancer, there is a lot that can be done in terms of prevention and early detection,” says Dr Stan Green from Specialist Clinics of Australia in Sydney.
Make sure you’re protecting yourself from the sun
According to the Cancer Council Australia, between 95 and 99% of skin cancer is caused by exposure to sun. Prevention is centred around avoiding overexposure to UV radiation.
Therefore, one should always try and:
- Cover as much skin as possible: when possible try and protect yourself from UV rays with sun-protective clothing.
- Apply sunscreen: you should use at least a teaspoon of sunscreen per limb, front and back of the body, and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears. It is best to use high quality sunscreen, 30 SPF or more, and apply it on any part of body that is going to be exposed to UV radiation. Remember that to function properly sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before going out in the sun and it should be reapplied every 2 hours.
- Wear a hat: a hat provides additional protection for the face, head, neck and ears.
- Wear sunglasses: sunglasses with UV protection help prevent cancer on the surface of the eye as well as protect your eyes against cataracts.
- Tinted windows: having protective films (either clear or tinted) applied to the surface of your car windows significantly reduces the amount of UV rays that get through into the vehicle.
- Avoiding strong sun: it is important to avoid sun exposition during the times of day when the sun is the strongest – from 10am to 16pm.
- Avoid sunbeds: artificial UV rays may be 6 times stronger than that the rays emitted by the midday sun. Various studies have proven an indisputably strong link between using sunbeds and increased risk in developing melanoma.
- Shade: seek shade whenever possible and favour it before being directly exposed to UV rays.
Focus on where the problem is more likely to occur
“Early detection and treatment of skin cancer can help to prevent not only surgery, but also possible disfigurement and even death,” says Dr Green. These are some key factors to consider in terms of early detection:
1. Get acquainted with your own skin: knowing how your body looks will help you notice any abnormalities. Especially when taking into consideration that skin cancer rarely hurts, and it is much more often seen than felt. It’s vital to get into the habit of regularly checking your own skin, even in places that the sun doesn’t usually reach like the soles of the feet, in-between fingers and toes, as well as under the nails.
2. ABCD of melanoma detection: there are several characteristics that we should watch out for when checking our skin:
- A for asymmetry: any spots with uneven sides should raise your suspicion;
- B for borders: look out for spots that have spreading or irregular edges;
- C for colour: spots that are not uniform and are of more than one colour, such as: black, red, blue, white and/or grey;
- D for diameter: pay attention to any spots that might be getting bigger over time.
3. Skin type: having naturally light skin increases the risk of the skin getting burned more easily and therefore of getting melanoma. These people should pay particular attention in terms of sun protection.
Although the risk for people with darker complexion is lower and they might never get sunburnt, they should take extra preventative measures as skin cancer death rate is the highest among people them due to late detection of the disease.
4. Distinguishing between a mole and melanoma: most moles usually look quite similar, and appear in childhood and early teenage years. Therefore, you should observe any new moles that develop after the age of 25 or those that are unusual in the appearance. Whenever you have doubts regarding a new mole, consult your GP and make sure that you’re safe.