Busting the myths about skin cancer

We’ve all heard the stories. Skin cancer won’t happen to me. There’s nothing to worry about, they can just cut it out. And skin cancer just affects old people, doesn’t it? Well, now it’s time to separate the fact from the fiction and bust those skin cancer myths once and for all.

It won’t happen to me

The facts say differently. Unfortunately, at least 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70 however, you do not have to be one of them. Most of these cancers will be keratinocyte (or non-melanoma) skin cancers. However about one in 14 Australians will develop melanoma. In 2013 in Australia 1,617 people died from melanoma and a further 592 died from non-melanoma skin cancer.

Skin cancer is just inevitable

Very little in life is inevitable, certainly not skin cancer. Even after years of sun exposure, you can still reduce your risk by making some positive changes now. None of us know what is around the corner, but making the effort to use sun protection when the UV is 3 or above is a great way to reduce your chance of getting skin cancer. It is never too late to protect yourself.

It can just be cut out – so it’s no big deal

Skin cancer treatment can be much more serious than just having a lesion cut out. It can include surgery, chemotherapy and can result in permanent scarring. Skin cancer can also spread to other parts of your body. Check your skin regularly and consult your GP immediately if you notice any changes. Prevention is always better than cure.

You won’t get sunburnt on windy, cloudy or cool days

Sunburn is not caused by heat. It is caused by UV radiation which is not related to temperature, so a cooler day in summer will have a similar UV index to a hot day. There’s no such thing as windburn, so any reddening of your face at the end of the day is actually sunburn.

Skin cancer is an old person’s disease

Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer and the most common cancer diagnosed in Australians aged 15 -29. Regardless of your age, you are at risk of skin cancer if you don’t use proper sun protection when the UV is 3 or above.

Sunscreen is enough by itself

Sunscreen is not a suit of armour against the sun. It’s rarely applied in sufficient quantity or frequency to achieve the sun protection on the label, it can rub or wash off, or sections of skin can be missed.

So you need to use additional sun protection measures to ensure that you’re safe. Wear sun protective clothing and a hat, as well as using shade where possible. Sunscreen works best in places you can’t cover with clothes, like your hands, neck, ears and face.

My tan will protect me

If your skin turns brown it is a sign of sun damage, even if there is no redness or peeling. Your skin turns brown as a way of trying to protect itself because the UV rays are damaging living cells. If you tan easily, you are still at risk of skin cancer and need to use sun protection.

Because I have dark skin I am not at risk of skin cancer

Regardless of skin type, if you spent your childhood in Australia you are at higher risk of developing skin cancer than someone who grew up elsewhere. People who tan easily and naturally dark skinned people have a lower risk than people with fair skin that burns easily, but they still have some risk of skin damage and skin cancer.

It’s too late – the damage is already done

Even after years of working outside without any sun protection, it’s not too late to protect your skin. UV damage is cumulative, in other words “it all adds up”. So don’t think that the damage is already done and it’s too late to make a change. Starting sun protection today could be the difference between getting a skin cancer diagnosis or not.

SunSmart App

UV levels change throughout the day, so be sure to check the UV forecast for where you are working. An easy way to do this is to download the SunSmart app for iOS | Android | Samsung to keep track of the UV levels via your smartphone.