This November 17-23 marks the annual National Skin Cancer Action Week, a time when the Cancer Council Australia once again focuses on the highly successful Slip, Slop, Slap message that launched in 1980 and resonated with millions of Australia. Professor Ian Olver, CEO of Cancer Council Australia, says of the campaign, “Each year, Cancer Council Australia uses National Skin Cancer Action Week to remind Australians to use sun protection and keep a close eye on their skin. This year, our Skin Cancer Action Week theme is ‘Your Summer, Your Skin, Your Story’. We are focusing on the personal stories around skin cancer in order to raise awareness about skin cancer prevention and detection.”
Australians are renowned throughout the globe for their love of sun, sea and sand. It should therefore not come as a surprise that we are also getting diagnosed with skin cancer at rates higher than most other countries. Every year, over 11,500 Aussies are diagnosed with a melanoma, the most aggressive form of skin cancer, and a further 434,000 are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer. These statistics should give even the most enthusiastic sun-lover pause for thought. “In many ways, skin cancer is Australia’s national cancer”, says Professor Olver. “Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime and around 2,000 people die of skin cancer each year.”
The Importance of Self-Examination
Early education and repeated Sunsmart messages are slowly changing our attitudes to tanning and sun exposure, with a slightly reduced incidence of skin cancer in Australians under the age of 45 in recent years. It is no time to be complacent, however. Those of us who spent long childhood summers outdoors without skin protection are only now beginning to see the full extent of the damage. This is why it is still so important to monitor your skin for any changes – even though you may protect your skin vigilantly now, any history of damage still puts you at risk of developing skin cancer.
Be familiar with your skin. If you notice any change in a mole, sore or lesion – particularly the size, colour and shape – don’t wait to see if it continues to change. A sore that doesn’t seem to heal or a mole with an ill-defined border also requires attention. You may think of skin cancer as a surface condition, but remember that as it grows outwards it also grows down into the layers beneath. A melanoma can spread quickly into the surrounding flesh and cause devastating damage. Early medical attention is the safest way to deal with it, so see your doctor without delay if you’ve noticed a change.
Protecting Your Skin
It’s not just the fair-skinned and freckly among us that need to be mindful of UV exposure. We are all potentially at risk of skin damage because of our sunny, warm climate that happens to be under a giant hole in the ozone layer, the atmosphere’s natural UV filter. You also might want to reconsider that tanning bed or solarium; with the UV rays around 6 times higher than normal sun exposure, the Cancer Council supports a complete ban.
The other important step is to limit your exposure to the sun, and this can be done on many levels. Anticipate your exposure time – during winter, most Australians can get their required level of vitamin D from just 2 to 3 hours over the course of a week, and in summer that changes to just a few minutes a day (you can find out more here). If you’re going to be spending more time than this outdoors, apply sunscreen liberally over your face, ears, neck and all exposed areas. The back, chest and shoulders are often forgotten, so take a garment like a t-shirt or a light shawl that can add protection directly. If you’re heading to the beach or a park, take an umbrella or position yourself under a tree. If you can’t find good shelter from the sun, a tub of zinc cream can protect your most sensitive areas, especially on the face. This is particularly useful at all-day events like sporting matches, festivals and picnics.
“We really want to remind young Australians that it is important to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide whenever the UV index is three or above”, said Professor Olver. And this crucial message from thirty-odd years ago is just as relevant today as it ever was.