Australia is indeed a sunburnt country and while our outdoor lifestyle is superb, it does come with some health drawbacks, not least of which is skin cancer. According to the Cancer Council, skin cancer accounts for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers, with almost all skin cancer caused by exposure to the sun.
Worryingly, and despite plenty of publicity about the dangers of the sun, Canstar Blue’s latest sunscreen survey found that 22% of the more than 1,900 respondents admit that they often get sunburnt – that’s despite an overwhelming 81% of respondents also admitting that they are concerned about skin cancer.
Terry Slevin is Chair of the Cancer Council’s, Occupational and Environmental Cancer Risk Committee, and is also editor of Sun, Skin and Health is a definitive guide on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. According to Mr Slevin, there are five common skin cancer myths – all of which he is keen to dispel.
“Just scratch the surface of almost any issue on skin cancer and you find complexities and more than a few controversies,” he says. “The science is constantly evolving and we know a lot more now than we did 30 years ago.”
The top five skin cancer myths are:
MYTH: “All skin cancers are the same”
False: Basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) are by far the most common and least dangerous form of skin cancer, while squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) are less common, but can spread to other parts of the body if they aren’t treated. Less common still, but far more likely to kill are melanomas. Unfortunately, Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world, with the Melanoma Institute of Australia advising that approximately 30 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma every day and more than 1,200 will die from the disease each year.
MYTH: “They’re just a few spots that can be removed”
False: GPs reportedly have around 1 million skin cancer-related patient consultations each year – it’s common! In fact, skin cancers are so common that people are at risk of becoming complacent. According to Mr Slevin though, while 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated if found early, it’s also a life-threatening disease. Those “few spots” should be seen to as soon as you become aware of them.
MYTH: “You can’t get burnt on a cold or cloudy day”
False: Many people mistakenly believe that they only need sun protection on hot, sunny days. This myth was certainly highlighted in Canstar Blue’s survey, which found that only 5% of respondents use sunscreen all the time in winter. A significant 58% of respondents admitted to using sunscreen only rarely or never in the winter months.
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, not heat, is the major cause of sunburn, premature ageing, eye damage and skin damage leading to skin cancer!
MYTH: “Using sun protection will lead to vitamin D deficiency”
False: “We live in an extremely high UV environment where your skin can burn in just 11 minutes on a clear January day,” says Mr Slevin. “Vitamin D deficiency is a legitimate concern for people who rarely see the sun, such as people who are infirmed or cover up for cultural reasons. But the rest of us in the southern parts of Australia should make enough vitamin D from September to April, without overexposing our skin to UV.”
MYTH: “Sunscreen is not safe”
False: “Rarely a summer goes by without a concern raised about the safety or efficacy of sunscreen,” said Mr Slevin. “The truth is that regular use of sunscreen at any age has been found to reduce the risk of skin cancer. Those worried about nanoparticles can rest assured – there has been no reliable evidence to suggest that the concentrations of nanoparticles found in sunscreen products are harmful.”
In a strong message for Gens Y and X, an overwhelming 75% of the Baby Boomers surveyed by Canstar Blue said that they wished they had been better protected from the sun when they were younger. Something to keep in mind when you’re about to step out the door tomorrow morning!