Skin cancer sufferers are highlighting the need for increased sun safety practices as Australia enters the warmer months when damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun is at its highest.
Experts agree that Australians need to be aware of the dangers of skin cancer causing UV radiation all year round but, as summer approaches, it is more important than ever to practise sun safety as that’s the time when many of us spend more time outdoors.
According to Australian health promotion program, SunSmart, UV radiation is the main cause of skin cancer, and can cause basal cell carcinomas (BCC), squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and melanoma, which are the three most common types of skin cancer.
Cancer Council Queensland CEO Chris McMillan said skin cancer was the most prevalent form of cancer in Australia, with approximately two in three Australians being diagnosed by the age of 70.
“Queensland has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, and most skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to UV radiation,” Ms McMillan said.
“In Queensland, sun protection is needed all year, due to consistently high UV levels,” she said.
A 2017 report from the Australian Skin and Cancer Institute revealed 12.5 million Australian adults get sunburnt regularly.
Ms McMillan said it was imperative Australians stayed sun safe to help prevent skin cancer.
“Cancer Council Queensland encourages all Queenslanders to protect their skin every day with a combination of five steps when outdoors,” Ms McMillan said.
“Slip on sun-protective clothing, slop on broad-spectrum sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on a pair of sunglasses,” she said.
A SunSmart study revealed there were more than 900,000 treatments for basal and squamous cell carcinomas in Australia in 2016.
Fifty-eight-year-old media personality Deborah Hutton said she recently received potentially life-saving surgery to remove two infiltrating BCCs from her face.
“The scary part was I couldn’t see them [the skin cancers] with my eye,” Ms Hutton said.
“It was such a wakeup call because you think you know what they look like, but they’re not always obvious,” she said.
Ms Hutton said it was not her first skin cancer removal surgery.
“About 20 years ago, I had some BCCs cut out and was told once you’ve had three, you’ll be in for some trouble as life goes on, so that was apparent to me 20 years ago,” Ms Hutton said.
She said her history with skin cancer stemmed from unprotected exposure to the sun in her youth.
“I grew up in Queensland in the ‘60s so, like most people, I spent a huge amount of time outdoors without protection.”
Ms Hutton said Australians needed to become more aware of the dangers of skin cancer.
“We don’t treat skin cancer as seriously in Australia as we would if we had lung or brain cancer, but it’s really important,” she said.
“We’re all in this situation together and need to be making it more of a conversation.”
Eighty-five-year-old former lifesaver Jim Linnen suffered similar skin cancers as a result of neglecting to use sunscreen during his 15-year lifesaving career in Queensland.
“I got burnt almost every day on the job and didn’t think much of it,” Mr Linnen said.
“But, as a result, I now suffer from SCC and BCC skin cancers, which I constantly get cut out or frozen off, and my skin is permanently scarred,” he said.
Mr Linnen recently underwent radiation therapy to target a skin cancer that had infiltrated his lymph nodes.
“The radiation was five days a week for four weeks, and that was hard to take,” he said.
“Every day is a constant battle with these skin cancers, so please wear sunscreen so you don’t end up like me.”
According to the Cancer Council Queensland, almost 4000 Australians are diagnosed with melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, every year.
Twenty-six-year-old Natalie Fornasier was diagnosed with Stage III melanoma in 2014 when she was just 20 years old.
“It was a mole on my toe that changed on its own,” Ms Fornasier said.
Six years on, Ms Fornasier’s cancer has evolved to Stage IV.
“Despite surgery, which was the only available treatment option at the time, it returned in 2018 in my lungs, progressing me to Stage IV,” she said.
“Then in 2019 [melanoma] spread to my bowel, duodenum and stomach.”
Ms Fornasia urged Australians to get their skin checked at least once a year.
“Skin cancer and melanoma don’t discriminate, it doesn’t matter if you’re olive skinned or light skinned, if you have brown hair or red hair,” Ms Fornasier said.
“It can happen to anyone and I’m proof of that.”