Why Do Australians Get So Much Skin Cancer, and How to Check Your Skin For Early Signs
Skin cancer is a silent killer that most of us, particularly in a country like Australia, often underestimate. Sun Smart says (https://www.sunsmart.com.au/skin-cancer/skin-cancer-facts-stats) that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, which goes to show just how vicious the sun is in the land down under. Thankfully, though, when detected early, the rate of successfully treating skin cancers like melanoma are extremely high.
However, there is a 99% chance that if you spot the early signs of a skin cancer developing that it can be treated. So why is skin cancer so common in a place like Australia in the first place, and how can we spot the early signs of developing skin cancer?
Let’s talk about it
Why is Skin Cancer so Common in Australia?
There’s a common myth that many float around as the primary reason Australia is swimming in skin cancer. The myth centers on a large hole in the ozone layer directly above Australia and New Zealand, created by CFCs used in the 1960s that was outlawed in 1976. In reality, the Skin Cancer Foundation says (https://www.cancerwa.asn.au/articles/news-2018/why-does-australia-have-so-much-skin-cancer-hint-i/) that “ozone depletion has made no appreciable difference to skin cancer,” and the “quantum of additional UV exposure was modest.”
So, why all the cancer down under? By the look of it, our staggering cancer rates have more to do with the interesting fact that European heritage, combined with mass migration in the early 20th century means that our skin isn’t tough enough for the huge amounts of UV exposure we experience on a daily basis in Australia.
The typical model of human evolution in places that have huge sun exposure rates shows that populations develop darker, pigmented skins as a natural form of exposure from sun damage. The general rule of thumb here is that the darker your skin is, the less likely you are to develop skin cancer, as your skin benefits from the protection that natural evolution has given it.
In short, Australia and New Zealand have astonishingly high rates of skin cancer because of mass migration from a place that barely gets any sun - Europe, particularly the UK - to the sunburnt shores of Australia and NZ. Basically, white, European ancestry does not fare well when it comes to the harsh Australian sun.
Not to mention the fact that Australians enjoy an enviously outdoor lifestyle compared to other countries; any excuse to take our shirts off, hey?
How to Detect the Early Signs of Skin Cancer
As we’ve already mentioned, the chances of successfully treating skin cancer are remarkably high - around 99% - if you can catch them early. With that in mind, let’s take a look at what you should look out for. We’ll start with the process of how to check at home, and then tell you what to look for when trying to identify a developing melanoma or other forms of skin cancer.
- Get in the habit of looking at your skin for any changes, new moles or freckles
- Undress completely
- Get in a room that has a large amount of light
- Use a mirror to check difficult to reach spots
- Ask a friend or family member to check your back, behind your ears and neck
What to Look For
- Assymetrical spots; skin cancers often develop into spots that have no symmetry, whereas moles are often symmetrical
- Look for any spots that have a border, or irregular edges
- Look for any raised bumps or spots with a lump
- Check for a rough or ulcerated surface to the spot
- Compare any spots with existing moles for changes in size, colour or asymmetry
- Identify any spots that have a variety of colours; these can be black, blue, red, white or grey
- Isolate any spots that tingle, itch or bleed
- Keep an eye on spots that are growing; cancers will get bigger with time
- Note any changes in the shape, pattern or colour; a spot that changes is a tell-tale sign of skin cancer
If you’ve noted any spots on your body that have one or more of these signs, it’s imperative that you visit your GP or skin specialist as soon as possible. Skin cancer is extremely treatable, so long as you catch it early.