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Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. In the US alone, almost 10,000 people are diagnosed with this disease every day while it will develop in at least 2 in 3 Australians by the time they are 70.
So what is it? Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of cells within your skin, otherwise known as a tumour. The primary cause is overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, a form of radiation that is emitted by the sun. The energy from UV light can mutate our skin’s DNA and cause chronic damage, which is associated with accelerated ageing (photoaging). Unsurprisingly, the disease usually presents itself on areas of our bodies more frequently exposed to the sun however this is not true for all skin cancers.
There is a dangerous misconception around who suffers from skin cancer. Anyone can experience skin cancer regardless of ethnicity or age, although some of us are hypersensitive to the damaging effects of UV light. If you have fair skin or live with a disorder such as vitiligo, albinism or cutaneous human papillomavirus (HPV) you are more prone to developing this disease.
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. The first two are grouped together as non-melanoma skin cancers. When identified and diagnosed early, skin cancer treatment has a very high success rate- estimated around 99%. Advanced tumours, however, can invade the muscle, bone and nearby organs which dramatically impacts the likelihood of survival and require aggressive chemotherapy. Learning how to self-examine and detect the presence of skin cancer is a small change you can easily make that could save your life.
If you have had a diagnosis of a non-melanoma or melanoma cancer, you are considered high risk for developing further skin cancers in your lifetime. Around 60% of people who have skin cancer will be diagnosed with a second cancer within 10 years. Attending routine examinations at your dermatologist is key.
Luckily, this disease is highly preventable meaning by practising sun safety behaviours, you can lower your probability. Regular daily use of an SPF 15 sunscreen reduces your risk of developing SCC by 40% and lower your melanoma risk by 50%.
Take action today.