As we experience a series of severe heat waves across the country, it’s a timely reminder to ensure you are protecting your skin from sun damage – and ultimately skin cancer. Australians are especially susceptible to skin cancer, with approximately two in three Australians being diagnosed by the time they are 70. Skin cancer also accounts for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?
First and foremost, it’s important all Australians get skin cancer checks once a year, or more frequently if you have a family history of skin cancer. Skin cancer checks are relatively hassle free, only lasting 15 minutes on average. Here’s what you need to know:
- On your first visit you will be asked some questions regarding you and your family’s skin cancer history. Be sure to be armed with as many answers to the questions as possible ahead of time. If you’re not sure, ask a member of your family.
- Be sure to let them know if there are any areas that you are concerned about so they can pay special attention and alleviate any concerns.
- For a full skin examination, you will need to undress to your underwear. You will be provided with an examination gown for you to wear or something similar.
- A skin specialist will carry out a visual inspection of your skin. They will be looking for abnormal skin lesions or moles with unusual colours or shapes.
- In some cases, skin specialists will use a special machine that takes photographs of skin lesions, moles or freckles that are kept on your record for future comparison.
- If there is an area of concern during the examination, a biopsy will be taken for further testing and you will be notified of the results.
- The genital area is not routinely examined, unless you request, as skin cancers are extremely rare in this area.
- The results of your individual screening will remain confidential.
- Be sure to book ahead each year to ensure you secure an appointment as places can book up fast due to demand, particularly during warmer months when it is top of mind.
- Where possible, return to the same location so any records kept are in the one location for easy reference and to track significant changes.
And in between check ups, it’s important you do your bit to stay protected this summer, so we’ve compiled 7 handy tips:
- Wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible e.g. long sleeved shirts with high collars and broad brimmed hats.
- Apply a minimum of SPF30+ water-resistant sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun and re-apply every 2 hours.
- If spending a long time outdoors such as for your work, sport or a BBQ, seek shaded areas where possible.
- Don’t be fooled by overcast conditions, UV radiation can be just as damaging to the skin on overcast days.
- Wear sunglasses outside during daylight hours.
- Be aware of changes to your skin and ask a friend or family member to keep an eye out for any freckles, marks or moles that may have changed shape or texture that aren’t easily seen (i.e. on your back).
- Lastly if you suspect something is not quite right, don’t wait, get it checked by a skin cancer specialist.
- Cancer Council Australia, 2018.