Skin cancer often shows no symptoms until an advanced stage, but has the potential to cause scarring, severe disfigurement, or even death. The disease can affect anyone and occur anywhere on the body (even under your fingernails!), but some people are at higher risk than others. Here are some risk factors that could increase your chances of developing skin cancer.
Being over 40
Over 90 per cent of people diagnosed with melanoma (a potentially deadly form of skin cancer) are older than 40, so it's very important to get regular skin checks once you reach your forties and beyond. However, skin cancer does affect people of all ages. In fact, melanoma is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 39. It is estimated that 2,500 Australians aged 25-49 will be diagnosed with the disease this year.
Having multiple sunburns that resulted in blistering or peeling
If you've had multiple sunburns that blistered or peeled, your risk of developing skin cancer doubles.
Men are at a greater risk of getting skin cancer, with one in 14 men and one in 24 women expected to develop melanoma sometime in their life.
Having pale skin, fair hair or blue eyes
Due to lack of skin pigmentation, Caucasian populations are at high risk of getting skin cancer. If you have fair skin, blue eyes, or light or red hair, you are in the highest risk group. However, skin cancer affects people of any ethnicity, no matter their skin colour. Did you know that Bob Marley died from a melanoma on his toe?
Having a large number of freckles or moles on your body
You have an increased risk of melanoma if there are multiple freckles or moles on your skin. It is important to get your skin checked frequently by your doctor, since early detection offers the best chance of successful treatment.
A family history of melanoma
While most skin cancers result from sun exposure, some melanomas develop due to an inherited gene. Each person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a 50 per cent greater chance of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history of the disease. This means that if your mother, father, siblings or children have had a melanoma, you are in a melanoma-prone family.
A personal history of melanoma or another type of skin cancer
You are at higher risk of developing further skin cancers if you have had one previously. A history of skin cancer indicates that your skin might be prone to the disease, usually from excessive sun damage or due to a genetic disposition.
Having a skin spot that looks different to the others
A mole could be a melanoma if it is changing in size, shape or colour, or looks different to the others on your body. It is important to become familiar with your own skin and notice any sores that won’t heal, small red or white lumps, or new freckles that appear or change over weeks or months.
Working outdoors or frequently enjoying outdoor activities
If you work outdoors, or are often outside, you are exposed to the sun’s UV radiation which permanently damages your skin cells and causes irreversible harm that can lead to skin cancer. UV radiation is responsible for 90 per cent of all skin cancers. Did you know that in Australia, one in eight adults and one in five teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend?
Bleeding easily, even with very little abrasion
A sign of skin cancer is easy or persisting bleeding, even from small abrasions on your body. For example, a small scratch on your skin might bleed when you towel off after a shower, or you might have lingering bleeding from your face after shaving.
Using a solarium
Studies show that using a solarium before the age of 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 59 per cent, because the UV radiation emitted from solariums is six times stronger than the midday sun!
If any of the above apply to you, you may be at higher risk of developing skin cancer. A head-to-toe skin check with a doctor is the only way to know if your skin is healthy. For peace of mind, you should get regular check-ups at least once a year.