There is an alarming misconception among some Australians that skin cancer "isn't that bad" or that it is not a "real" cancer because it originates in the skin rather than the internal organs. This is a dangerous fallacy, especially since Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world with over 800,000 cases diagnosed each year. Let's talk about why skin cancer should be taken very seriously.
"Skin cancer isn't deadly."
Skin cancer claims an Australian life every five hours. Each year, more than 2,000 people die from melanoma - one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer - and it is the most common cancer affecting young Australians aged 15-29.
"Skin cancer isn't concerning because if it's there, I'll see it."
Skin cancer comes in all colours, shapes and sizes, and most people don't know what to look for when monitoring their own skin at home - or don't check frequently enough. By the time skin cancer shows any symptoms to the naked eye, it may have already spread to other parts of your body and become deadly. Professional skin checks at least once a year offer the best chance of detecting skin cancers early when you have the best chance of successful treatment. Skin cancer doctors use special skin imaging technology to see through the layers of the skin and identify changes to your skin cells that may indicate a cancerous growth.
"Skin cancer is easy to treat."
When skin cancer is detected very early, it can usually be treated with minor surgery, freezing or a topical solution. However, not all skin cancers can be approached this way, especially if caught late. Treatments can include major surgery and chemotherapy, and can result in permanent scarring, disfigurement and amputation. Skin cancer can also spread to other organs and become deadly.
"Skin cancer is limited to just the skin."
Some people believe that because they can see the cancer on the surface of their skin, it is not doing any harm internally. Unfortunately, skin cancer can quickly spread to other organs including your brain, lungs and lymph nodes. Treating secondary cancer can be much more difficult and sometimes unsuccessful. Skin cancer can also develop in surprising places such as the eyes, genitals, inside the mouth, under fingernails, and between toes.
"When melanoma is cut out, it's gone."
Sometimes skin cancer treatment isn't as simple as just "cutting it out". One reason melanoma is among the deadliest forms of skin cancer is because it can spread into your blood stream and develop in other parts of your body from a lesion on your skin as small as 1mm.
Even if you have a melanoma removed, secondary cancers can form in your bones, lungs, heart or brain, so it's important to get melanomas surgically removed as early as possible.
"I'm already being treated for cancer, so I don't need to worry about skin cancer."
Treatment for one type of cancer does not make you immune to other cancers. In fact, certain cancer treatments, such as radiation, can actually increase your sensitivity to UV rays, and these effects can last well after treatment ends.
It's important to monitor your skin for new or changing spots and consult a skin cancer doctor immediately if you notice anything different. Regular skin checks are also essential for all Australians, as early detection gives the best chance of successful treatment.