Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world with more than 15,000 new cases of invasive melanoma diagnosed every year.
Melanoma is a form of cancer that develops in the body’s pigment cells, known as melanocytes. Melanocytes produce melanin to help protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation i.e. sunlight. When these cells cluster together in the skin during childhood or adolescence they form a mole.
Melanoma occurs when abnormal melanocytes grow in an uncontrolled way and evade the immune system. About a third of all melanomas arise from existing moles but they can develop anywhere on the skin. Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and can grow very quickly if left untreated.
Melanoma is the third most common cancer affecting men and women in Australia.
Melanoma can be prevented and treated if detected early.
- How can I reduce my risk of developing melanoma?
- Protect your skin from the sun
- Check your own skin regularly
- Have a skin check with your GP
Use sunscreen daily
Use the highest possible SPF sunscreen (currently SPF50+ in Australia) with broad spectrum UVA and UVB protection. SPF is the ‘Sun Protection Factor’ against UVB which causes most damage.
Sunscreen is suitable from 6 months of age. Before 6 months of age, keep babies away from direct sunlight as much as possible. Plan daily activities to ensure the baby is well protected from the sun and aim to minimise time outside when UV levels are at their strongest.
When this is not possible, ensure that babies are protected from the sun by shade, protective clothing and a hat.
Most people do not apply enough sunscreen. Apply it generously: A good guide is the ‘7 teaspoon’ rule –one teaspoon for each limb, one teaspoon each for your front and back of your torso, and half a teaspoon each for your face and neck.
Spread your product lightly and evenly on your skin and allow it to absorb.
Do not rub it in completely as you may end up rubbing it off.
Remembering to reapply your sunscreen every two hours is important as it often gets wiped or washed away.
Understand the UV rating
Light from the sun contains UV radiation which can damage your skin. It’s important to remember that UV can’t be seen or felt, and cloud cover won’t necessarily reduce UV radiation levels. The UV index can be high even on cool and overcast days.
The UV index is a simple way of describing the intensity of UV radiation from the sun at different times of the day. The higher the UV index value, the greater the potential for damage to your skin.
The UV index is a tool you can use to know when to protect yourself from UV radiation. When the UV index is 3 and above, sun protection is always needed. If you have very fair skin and will be in the sun for long periods (more than an hour), you may need protection even if the UV index is below 3.
Keep an eye on the UV index in your area by downloading the SunSmart app on your phone or look for the UV rating on some weather forecasts. sunsmart.com.au/resources/sunsmart-app – please link ths
Protect your eyes as well
UV radiation not only causes sunburn and skin damage leading to skin cancer. It can also cause serious eye conditions including;
- Cataracts (cloudiness of the lens), which may require surgery.
- Solar keratopathy (cloudiness of the cornea).
- Cancer of the conjunctiva (the membrane covering the white part of the eye).
- Skin cancer of the eyelids and around the eyes.
- Pterygium which is an overgrowth of the conjunctiva onto the cornea.
Sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat worn together can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.
Sunglasses don’t have to be expensive to be effective, but some cheaper fashion sunglasses don’t provide sun protection.
When choosing sunglasses consider the following for best protection:
- Choose a close-fitting, wrap-around style of sunglasses.
- Check to make sure they meet the Australian Standard for eye protection (AS/NZS1067). The Standard has five categories of sun protection – choose category 2 or higher. These lenses absorb more than 95% of UV radiation.
- Some sunglasses carry an Eye Protection Factor (EPF). Ratings of EPF 9 and 10 provide excellent protection, blocking almost all UV radiation.
- Polarised sunglasses reduce glare and make it easier to see on a sunny day however they do not increase the level of UV protection.
Being familiar with your skin will allow you to recognise changes early and act quickly. If melanoma does develop, it can be detected at an early stage when treatment is most successful.
Develop a regular habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles.
Almost all of us have moles. Moles are not normally present at birth, but appear in childhood and early teenage years.
By the age of 15, Australian children have an average of more than 50 moles.
Normal moles usually look alike. See your doctor if a mole looks different or if a new mole appears after the age of 25. The more moles a person has, the higher the risk of melanoma.
These are some changes to look out for when checking your skin for signs of any cancer:
- New moles
- Moles that increases in size
- An outline of a mole that becomes notched
- A spot that changes colour from brown to black or is varied
- A spot that becomes raised or develops a lump within it
- The surface of a mole becoming rough, scaly or ulcerated
- Moles that itch, bleed or weep
- Spots that look different from the others
Know your skin and see your GP if you notice any changes
Getting your skin checked by your GP is useful for a number of reasons.
Your GP can use a dermatoscope which is a combination of a magnifying lens and light that allows skin lesions to be examined more closely.
Your GP can let you know if you have an increased risk of skin cancer and how often you should get a full body skin check.
Dr Brett Goodsall and Dr Jacci Downey are able to perform full body skin checks to all patients at Pear Tree Family Practice and Little Pears.
Dr Jeremy Cho is able to perform full body checks to his own regular patients.