The facts surrounding melanoma come with both good and bad news.
Over 2,000 Australian citizens die from skin cancer each year, according to Cancer Council. In 2017 alone, the Cancer Council Australia estimates there will be around 134,000 new diagnosed cancer cases in Australia and up to 150,000 by 2020. One person dies from melanoma every five hours in Australia, reports Melanoma Institute Australia.
Melanoma is the most severe type of skin cancer and if left untreated can spread rapidly through the skin, entering the bloodstream or lymphatic system. It can then travel to just about any area in the body, including:
- Lymph nodes
- Other areas of your skin
The good news is that most skin cancers can be prevented through proper sun protection and 95 percent of all skin cancers can be treated successfully if they are found and treated early.
The Australasian College of Dermatologists and Cancer Council Australia come together every 3rd week of November for National Skin Cancer Action Week. Held on the 19th - 25th in November this year, it is a week meant to remind all Australians that sun protection is as vital as early skin cancer detection.
Below are 8 effective ways to protect your skin and prevent skin cancer.
1. Use Sunscreen and Apply It Properly
Wearing sunscreen is essential all throughout the year, but most especially during the summertime in Australia. Sadly, despite Australia having one of the highest skin cancer rates worldwide, many still don’t use enough sunscreen.
According to research involving 416 respondents from two dermatology outpatient clinics in New South Wales, Australia, 30 percent of the respondents reported not using sunscreen before they went out in the sun.
But the benefits of wearing sunscreen are undeniable. An estimated 1,700 cases of melanoma were prevented in 2010 by individuals using sunscreen for the long term, according to a comprehensive cancer prevention study in Australia.
For the average-sized adult, around 30-40 ml of sunscreen should be applied to the entire body to reach the two milligrams per square centimeter recommendation. Most Australian’s apply too little sunscreen. The table below provides guidelines on the amount of sunscreen needed for the average-sized adult per body part.
|Body Part||Amount of Sunscreen Needed for Average Adult*|
|Each Arm||More than a half a teaspoon (about 3 ml)|
|Face, Neck and Ears||More than a half a teaspoon (about 3 ml)|
|Each Leg||Just over one teaspoon (about 6 ml)|
|Front of the body||Just over one teaspoon (about 6 ml)|
|Back of the body||Just over one teaspoon (about 6 ml)|
For an average-sized adult, this amounts to more than 30ml sunscreen for one full body application. As a point of reference, 30, 35, and 40 milliliters equals 5, 6, and 7 teaspoons, respectively.
And contrary to what many people think, sun protection isn’t just about how much SPF to use or which UVA products to buy. It’s also about how you apply them. You should:
- Use a 30+ SPF or higher.
- Apply sunscreen liberally to the skin around 20 minutes before leaving the house.
- Apply sunscreen after acne medications, skin toners, and all other products.
- Apply sunscreen liberally and evenly on the skin. Applying it thinly does not give you enough protection.
- Apply sunscreen even on cloudy days as the sun’s UV rays are still at work and can still cause damage.
- Check the use by date and store sunscreen below 30 degrees Celsius.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, regardless of its water resistance.
While wearing sunscreen is one of the top ways to protect yourself from harmful UV rays, it shouldn’t be your only line of defense.
2. Understand Sun Protection Factor - SPF
Let’s get one thing straight. The SPF number on the label doesn’t equate to more sun protection. It indicates how long you get sun protection.
The higher the SPF, the longer you’re protected. SPF 30 means it provides 30 times your natural sun protection level meaning you can remain in the sun 30 times longer than you normally could before getting a sunburn assuming you reapply as per the directions
Also remember that reapplying does not mean that the clock resets! Even with SPF 30, if you normally burn in 10 minutes it will give you 300 minutes of protection (5 hours) assuming you reapply regularly – it will be less if you are swimming or sweating a lot. After your time is up your only option is to get out of the sun or cover up!
3. Wear Protective Clothing
Wear sleeved shirts that cover both arms and shoulders and a brimmed hat to protect the face, neck, and ears. Tight-woven fabric also keeps the sun out.
Because melanoma can also occur in the eyes (known as ocular melanoma or intraocular melanoma), your sunglasses should have an EPF (eye protection factor) of 10 or at least meets Australian Standard 1067 compliance.
When purchasing new sunglasses, look for the swing tag and check to ensure the lenses meet the Australian Standard for eye protection (AS/NZS1067:2003). The Australian Standard has five sun protection categories. Always select category 2 or higher because these sunglass lenses absorb more than 95 percent of UV radiation. Wrap-around and close-fitting sunglasses provide the best eye protection too.
Do not be fooled by dark-tinted sunglasses either. If they do not have an EPF factor of at least 10, they won’t protect your from the sun.
Wearing AS1067-standard sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat can reduce the eyes' UV-ray exposure by up to 98%, the Cancer Council Victoria reports.
4. Know the Sun is Not the Only Culprit
Even though the main cause of skin cancer is prolonged exposure to the sun, it’s not the only culprit. Solariums, or tanning beds, also give off ultraviolet radiation (UV) which can cause skin cancer. Those with freckles, fair skin, or multiple moles and with a family history of skin cancer are at a higher risk.
Remember that just because the sun’s not out, it doesn’t mean you’re not exposed to UV rays. Over 90 percent of UV rays may penetrate light cloud.
5. Get in the Shade
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from UV radiation is to get in the shade. This reduces UV ray exposure by up to 75 percent.
Up to 18 percent of UV radiation radiates back to you when on dry beach sand. And when you’re out in the sea surf, as much as 30 percent reflects back to you even when you’re out with an umbrella on. So be sure to always have proper clothing and sunscreen on.
6. Pay Attention to Sun-Sensitising Medicine
Some common over-the-counter and prescription medication like antibiotics may cause your skin to be more sun-sensitive. Get to know your medication and be wary of side effects. Take extra precaution and get adequate skin protection if this is the case.
7. Avoid Middle-of-the-Day Sunlight
In Australia, the sun is at its strongest between 10 AM and 4 PM. Try to avoid outdoor activities during this time or schedule them for other times of the day.
Also, understand the UV Index, which details the level of UV radiation expected to reach the earth’s surface on any day. The UV Index has the following levels:
- low (1-2)
- moderate (3-5)
- high (6-7)
- very high (8-10)
- and extreme (11 and above).
Download the Cancer Council’s SunSmart App to know what the daily UV index is and the sun protection times.
8. Get Screened Annually
You should be screened for melanoma every 12 months. An important life-saving factor in the prognosis of melanoma is early diagnosis.
You can check for potential melanomas yourself by regularly looking out for suspicious spots on your skin. The first sign of flat melanoma is generally an existing freckle or mole that changes in appearance or location. Other changes may include:
- A spot that’s grown larger.
- A spot with edges that look irregular, instead of smooth.
- A spot speckled with different colors like black, brown or red.
- A spot that’s bleeding or itchy.
Still, one of the best melanoma screening tools available for you is MoleMap. MoleMap detects 10 times more melanomas at the early stage than standard screening practices. MoleMap identifies melanoma at an average depth of 0.6, which offers patients a nearly 100 percent survival rate in five years.
This is important because when thin tumors haven’t gotten down the skin’s surface yet and have not spread into layers, they are easier to treat and are less likely to be fatal.
When detected early and cut out, melanoma is curable.
Recognising your risk for skin cancer can save your life. Use our MoleMap Risk Assessment Tool and start taking preventative action today.