What is Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. Normally cells grow and multiply in a controlled way, however, sometimes cells become abnormal and keep growing. Abnormal cells can form a mass called a tumour.

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Image courtesy of Skin Cancer Org
Image courtesy miiskin.com

What are the types of skin cancer?

There are three main types of skin cancer:
Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC) / Keratinocyte Cancer:
basal cell carcinom
– squamous cell carcinoma
melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

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What are the causes and risks of skin cancer?

The majority of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to UV radiation in sunlight.

Some factors that increase your risk of skin cancer include:

  • sunburn
  • tanning
  • solariums
  • Multiple Nevi Syndrome
  • Genetic Predisposition

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Incidence of skin cancer in Australia

Approximately, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.  In 2018 2094 people died from skin cancer in Australia.

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Prevention of Skin Cancers

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to use sun protection when UV levels are 3 or above:

  • Slip on some sun-protective clothing – that covers as much skin as possible.
  • Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
  • Slap on a hat – that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
  • Seek shade.
  • Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian standards.

Be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense.

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Sunscreen, Vitamin D and UV Index

The use of sunscreen is one of five important ways to reduce the risk of skin cancer. It is recommended by the Cancer Council that a sun protection factor of SPF30+ be used in Australia.

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Vitamin D

Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to UV from sunlight. It can also be obtained from some foods. We need vitamin D to maintain good health and to keep bones and muscles strong and healthy.  Spending small amounts of time in the sun uncovered when the UV index is below 3 will boost vitamin D levels.

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UV Index

Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation is the invisible killer that you can’t see or feel. Even on cool and overcast days UV radiation can be high. The UV Index is a tool you can use to protect yourself from UV radiation. It tells you the times of day that you need to be SunSmart.

Sun protection times are issued by the Bureau of Meteorology when the UV Index is forecast to reach 3 or above. Sunscreen is recommended on these days.

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You can download the SunSmart App which is a great way to check the UV Index when you are out and about.

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10 Myths about sun protection debunked by Cancer Council

  1. Sun damage is not possible on windy, cloudy or cool days.
  2. A fake tan darkens the skin, protecting the skin from the sun.
  3. Sunscreen is not necessary when using cosmetics with SPF.
  4. People with olive skin are not at risk of skin cancer.
  5. You can stay out longer in the sun when you are wearing SPF50+ than you can with SPF30
  6. Plenty of sun exposure is required to avoid vitamin D deficiency.
  7. You don’t have to be concerned about skin cancer because if it happens you will see it, and it is easy to treat.
  8. Only sun seekers get skin cancer.
  9. If you tan but don’t burn, you don’t need to bother with sun protection.
  10. You can’t get burnt in the car through a window.

Click HERE for more information about why these are fallacies.

Image courtesy of Teach Me Anatomy

Skin Anatomy

The skin is a vital organ which is about 2mm thick and consists of many layers. Knowing the anatomy of your skin can help you understand more about skin cancer and the risks.

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Skin Types

Your skin type is a major factor in your risk for skin cancer including melanoma. There are six types of skin, ranging from very fair (type 1), to very dark (type 6) and while it’s true that people with fair skin are more at risk for sunburn, sun damage and skin cancer, UV exposure can raise skin cancer risk even if you tan and don’t burn.  It makes sense to know the skin you’re in.

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Diagnosis of Skin Cancer

It is important to check your skin regularly and check with your doctor if you notice any changes.

Our qualified practitioners will examine you, paying attention to any spots that may look suspicious. We may perform a biopsy (remove a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope)

Treatment of Skin Cancer

Skin cancers are almost always removed. In more advanced skin cancers, radiation, chemotherapy and immunotherapy may be required and need to be referred further to a hospital or specialist. The most common treatment for skin cancer is surgery to remove the cancer with a prescribed surgical clearance(usually under a local anaesthetic). Sometimes superficial Skin cancers and solar keratoses may be treated with different treatment options such as topical chemotherapy,  topical immunotherapy,  cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen to rapidly freeze the cancer off), curettage (scraping) or cautery (burning)

Screening and Early Detection of Skin Cancer

It is recommended that people have regular (annual) skin checks with their doctor and also become familiar with their own skin because early detection is vital in identifying potential skin cancers. If you notice any changes, consult your doctor.

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