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IS SKIN CANCER?
Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
basal cell carcinoma
squamous cell carcinoma
melanoma - the most dangerous form of skin cancer
Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non-melanoma skin cancer.
Approximately, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70.
skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers
SKIN CANCER SYMPTOMS
CAUSES OF SKIN CANCER
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer, though the risk increases as you get older.
The majority of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to UV radiation in sunlight.
In Australia, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend. Many people get sunburnt when they are taking part in water sports and activities at the beach or a pool, as well gardening or having a barbeque.
Sunburn is also common on cooler or overcast days, as many people mistakenly believe UV radiation is not as strong. This is untrue - you can still be sunburnt when the temperature is cool.
Sun exposure that doesn't result in burning can still cause damage to skin cells and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Evidence suggests that regular exposure to UV radiation year after year can also lead to skin cancer.
Solariums emit UVA and UVB radiation, both known causes of cancer. Cancer Council does not recommend solarium use for cosmetic tanning under any circumstances.
As of January 2016, commercial solariums were banned in all states in Australia. ACT has also banned commercial solariums. There are no commercial solariums operating in the Northern Territory.
A tan is not a sign of good health or wellbeing, despite many Australians referring to a “healthy tan”. Almost half of Australian adults still hold the misguided belief that a tan looks healthy.
Tanning is a sign that you have been exposed to enough UV radiation (from the sun or solarium) to damage your skin. This will eventually cause loss of elasticity (wrinkles), sagging, yellowish discolouration and even brown patches to appear on your skin. Worst of all, it increases your risk of skin cancer.
A tan will offer only limited protection from sunburn, usually equivalent to SPF3, depending on your skin type. It does not protect from DNA damage, which can lead to skin cancer.
Some people who use fake tans mistakenly believe it will provide them with protection against UV radiation. As a result, they may not take sun protection measures, putting them at greater risk of skin cancer.
Diagnosis for skin cancer
It is important to check your skin regularly and check with your doctor if you notice any changes.
Your doctor may perform a biopsy (remove a small sample of tissue for examination under a microscope) or refer you to a specialist if he/she suspects a skin cancer.
Treatment for skin cancer
Skin cancers are almost always removed. In more advanced skin cancers, some of the surrounding tissue may also be removed to make sure that all of the cancerous cells have been taken out.
The most common treatment for skin cancer is surgery to remove the cancer (usually under a local anaesthetic). Common skin cancers can be treated with ointments or radiotherapy. Skin cancer can also be removed with cryotherapy (using liquid nitrogen to rapidly freeze the cancer off), curettage (scraping) or cautery (burning).
For more detailed information about skin cancer please to your GP.
Depending on your treatment, your treatment team may consist of a number of medical staff, such as:
General Practitioner - your first port of call
Dermatologist - a doctor who specialises in preventing, diagnosing and treating skin diseases
Surgeon - this can be a general surgeon, a surgical oncologist to manage complex skin cancers or a plastic surgeon trained in complex constructive techniques, including surgery if the cancer has spread.
Palliative care - end of life special care to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancerAs well as slowing the spread of skin cancer, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies.
SCREENING FOR SKIN CANCER
There is currently no formal screening program for skin cancers in Australia. It is recommended that people become familiar with their skin. If you notice any changes consult your doctor. Dr Vinith Menezes, Dr Emily MacDonald and Dr Thong Le are highly trained in skin conditions.
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