Skin Cancer
  |  First Published: September 2007

what is it and how can I reduce my risk of developing skin cancer?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in Australia, with 80% of all cancers diagnosed being skin cancer. It is caused by an accumulation of over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun penetrating the skin and damaging living cells. Due to this damage, cell regrowth in the skin can become disordered and skin cancer develops.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

1. Basal cell carcinoma

• It grows slowly over months or years and rarely spreads to other parts of the body;

• It occurs mainly on the head, neck or upper torso;

• It appears as a lump or scaling area;

• It may become ulcerated like a sore that won’t heal.

2. Squamous cell carcinoma

• It grows over some months and rarely grows rapidly;

• It appears on sites most often exposed to the sun;

• It occurs as a thickened, red, scaly spot that may bleed or ulcerate;

• It may spread to other parts of the body if not treated.

3. Melanoma

• It is the most dangerous skin cancer;

• It grows over weeks to months, anywhere on the body;

• It appears as a new or existing spot, freckle or mole that changes colour, size or shape

• If untreated, can spread to other parts of the body

Everyone is at risk of developing skin cancer. Over-exposure to UVR during childhood and adolescence is a risk factor for skin cancer later in life. However, it is never too late to start protecting your skin and preventing further skin damage.

Preventative measures

Skin cancer is largely preventable. To help reduce the risks of developing skin cancer, follow six simple rules:

1. Limit exposure.

Where possible, minimise the time you spend in the sun between 10am and 3pm, when UVR is at its strongest.

2. Seek shade.

Shade provided by trees, buildings or temporary shelters provides some protection from UVR.

3.Wear SunSmart clothing.

Clothing provides constant protection from UVR. Choose clothing styles that have a collar, sleeves and are of a dark colour and close weave.

4. Wear a broad-brimmed, legionnaire or bucket-style hat.

Choose a hat made from a close weave fabric and one which has a dark colour under the brim.

5. Wear sunglasses.

Choose a wrap-around pair of sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard 1067:2003.

6. Apply SPF 30+, broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen.

Sunscreen should be the last line of defence and used in addition to all other SunSmart strategies for adequate sun protection.

Early detection of skin cancer is important. If detected early, the majority of skin cancers can be successfully treated and cured. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are more often seen rather than felt. Develop a regular practice of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles and moles. Any suspicious sore, freckle or mole should be checked by your health professional as soon as possible.

If you would like to know more about how to prevent and detect skin cancer, The Cancer Council Queensland runs a free community education program. Speakers deliver informative presentations on the prevention and early detection of a range of cancers. To book a presentation or for further information about cancer, contact The Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20. ­ The Cancer Council Queensland

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