Check Spots Regularly To Prevent Skin Cancer Even in Winter

25 Jul 2005

AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, said today that Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world and that every Australian should protect themselves from dangerous ultra-violet radiation, even in winter when the sun's rays can cause skin damage.

Dr Haikerwal made the comments during the Federal AMA's 13th Family Doctor Week (FDW). The theme this year is GPs are Lifesavers.

Dr Haikerwal encouraged all Aussies to get someone to help them check their skin regularly, adding that of the 383,000 Australians diagnosed with skin cancer each year, 1 300 die.

"This is a terrible waste. Most deaths can be prevented if their skin cancer is diagnosed early," Dr Haikerwal said.

"With careful review with a bright light and dermatoscope, we can spot developing melanoma early.

"It's important to keep an eye on moles and birthmarks. But the spots that are cause for concern are the ones that change colour, increase in size or thickness, or bleed.

"Spots that won't heal, that crack, or are painful also need immediate medical attention.

"Remember these can be on unexposed parts of the body.

"The good news is that skin cancers can be cured, especially the more common ones like basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.

"Melanomas are also curable but they must be diagnosed early - so new moles and any change in a freckle or mole should be checked urgently," Dr Haikerwal said.

According to the Cancer Council of Australia:

  • Skin cancers account for around 80 per cent of all new cancers diagnosed each year in Australia
  • Over 382,000 people are treated for non-melanoma skin cancer and melanoma each year in Australia, and over 1300 die
  • Every year, doctors remove around 720,000 lesions from the skins of Australians because they are suspected skin cancers
  • Australian survival rates from melanoma are generally higher than in other countries because we are now more aware of the signs of skin cancer, and are detecting them earlier
  • Everyone, regardless of skin colour, is at risk of skin cancer. In Australia, sunburn can occur in as little as 15 minutes on a fine Janurary day. (Roy et al, Health Effects of Ozone Layer Depletion: 1989)
  • There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, also known as non-melanoma skin cancers, and melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most frequently occurring cancer in Australia (over 374,000 new cases each year), but the least life-threatening, although some cases can be fatal
  • Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, is the most common cancer in people aged 15 to 44 years. Overall, it is the third most common cancer in women, and the fourth most common in men.

To minimise your chance of getting skin cancer:

  • avoid the sun in the middle of the day (10 am to 3 pm) as much as possible (remember that snow, sand and water reflect sunlight onto skin, which is just as damaging as direct sun exposure)
  • stay in the shade whenever possible
  • wear protective clothing - a wide-brimmed hat and cover-up clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts and trousers (or at least knee-length shorts)
  • apply SPF 30+ broad-spectrum sunscreen to the skin. Apply it 20 minutes or so before going outside and reapply every two hours while in the sun.

There will be a range of FDW activities co-ordinated out of the Federal and State AMA offices. For more details call Kristen Connell on 02 6270 5439 or 0409 070 346. An image of this year's FDW poster is available on the AMA's website

The AMA's 2005 Family Doctor Week is supported by American Express.

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