Did you know Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer worldwide? Around two in three Australians will develop skin cancers in their lifetime − and that rate is steadily increasing according to new research. So, it comes as no surprise that it is recommended you get a Skin Cancer Check every 12 months.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer can be in the form of melanoma or non-melanoma.
- Melanoma skin cancers are caused when melanocytes, the cells that generate pigment in the skin (melanin), start to grow out of control. While it is the less common form of skin cancer, it is significantly more dangerous due to its ability to spread quickly through the body.
- Non-melanoma types are the most common and are in the form of either basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers. They behave very differently as they most often do not metastasize and so are treated in a different manner.
Risk Factors for developing skin cancer
Anyone can develop skin cancer, yet there are a few known correlations that increase a person’s risks, and while some of these things can be prevented with a behavioural change, other risk factors such as genetics, family history or age cannot.
Having one or many risk factors for melanoma doesn’t mean that you will develop this form of skin cancer. Likewise, people without any risk factors are also still able to develop it. By being aware of the risk factors, it will enable you to modify behaviours (where possible) that will help to lower your risk:
- Exposure to the sun, especially at times when there are high ultraviolet (UV) rays.
- Fair skin, light hair colour and prone to freckling.
- Family history of melanoma in the first degree, such as your parents, siblings or children.
- Personal history of melanoma – people who have had melanoma once have a higher chance of developing it again.
- Moles while most people have moles, a person who has a lot of moles has a higher chance of developing melanoma.
- People with a weakened immune system. This can be caused by medical treatment or other diseases such as HIV or organ transplant recipients.
- Being older, and while melanoma knows no age, there is a clear trend for the rising prevalence of melanoma occurring in older people.
- Being male. Studies suggest the higher rates of melanoma in men are due to their lifestyles and work environments (such as for those who do trades), often leading to more time outdoors than their female counterparts.
- People who live in the higher latitude areas on the Australian continent or in rural regions. And yes, while this is for two different reasons, it is interesting to know that where you live in Australia can impact your level of risk for skin cancer. It is understood that populations in the northern parts of Australia are exposed to higher ultraviolet rays than the southern areas. However, those living in rural areas of Australia who reportedly had a higher incidence of skin cancer were thought to have developed this through less education on sun safety than in urban areas and more outdoor activities.
How can I reduce my risk of skin cancer?
It’s important to be sun safe and take precautions when the UV index is particularly high.
- Monitor the UV index when outdoors and act accordingly. Seek shade or carry it with you, such as an umbrella or portable sun shelter.
- Wear sunscreen.
- Wear a hat.
- Wear wraparound sunglasses.
- Wear loose, protective clothing to keep your skin out of the sun’s rays.
- Don’t use tanning beds.
How will I know if there are changes in my skin or moles?
Monitor your skin for yourself every 2-3 months. Self-scanning routinely will help you notice any changes in moles or the appearance of new ones. That way, if anything looks unusual, you can seek medical attention sooner. It is recommended that you get a skin cancer check by a qualified healthcare professional every 12 months or sooner for people who have light skin or red hair and/or have a family history. You may be asked by your GP to come in every six months.
Did you know many GPs are trained to perform skin cancer checks? If it’s time for you to get your skin checked by a qualified health professional, contact your nearest Qualitas Medical Practice and book in for a Skin Cancer Check if they have a GP onsite that offers this service.
 Staples, M. P., Elwood, M., Burton, R. C., Williams, J. L., Marks, R., & Giles, G. G. (2006). Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia: the 2002 national survey and trends since 1985. Medical Journal of Australia, 184(1), 6–10. https://doi.org/10.5694/j.1326-5377.2006.tb00086.x