Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. At least 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.
The major cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and other artificial sources, such as solariums.
The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer in Australia. Over 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated if found early.
What is skin cancer
Skin cancer is a disease of the body’s skin cells, usually a result of skin cell damage. Skin cancer can grow when the cells which make up our skin are damaged, causing them to grow abnormally.
Each time your skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, changes take place in the structure and function of our skin cells. Over time, the skin can become permanently damaged, which will worsen with each exposure.
Every additional decade of overexposure to UV further increases your risk of skin cancer. At any age, increased use of sun protection against sun damage will help prevent skin cancer and melanoma.
All skin types can be damaged by exposure to UV radiation. People with skin types which are less likely to burn are still at risk, albeit lower, of developing skin cancer.
Check for signs of skin cancer
The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the case of a serious melanoma or other skin cancer, potential disfigurement or even death.
It is a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.
It’s important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so that you notice any changes. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are much more frequently seen than felt.
Develop a regular habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles.
Protect your skin
Always avoid sunburn and for best protection use a combination of these five steps when UV is 3 or above:
- SLIP on some sun-protective clothing – that covers as much skin as possible
- SLOP on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ (or greater) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- SLAP on a hat – broad brim or legionnaire style to protect your face, head, neck and ears
- Seek shade
- SLIDE on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards
Try to avoid direct sun exposure when UV levels are 9 or above.
SunSmart UV Alert
You can’t see or feel UV radiation so it can be difficult to know when you need to use sun protection. The alert identifies times during the day when the UV level is 3 or above and sun protection is needed.
The SunSmart UV Alert is reported daily by the Bureau of Meteorology. As well as appearing on the Bureau of Meteorology website, the alert is published in the weather section of daily newspapers, as a UV alert widget, as an app for smartphones, and can be found on our homepage.
Find out more about the SunSmart UV Alert.
Apply sunscreen liberally – at least a teaspoon for each limb, front and back of the body and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen resulting in only 50-80% of the protection stated on the product.
For more information download our Sunscreen Information Sheet
View a demonstration of proper sunscreen application.