As winter morphs into spring, then summer, thousands of Australians – as they do every year – will flock to the beach and the great outdoors, hoping to “catch some rays”.
And, as they marinate in the sun, they’ll be rolling the dice.
Melanoma is often described as Australia’s national cancer. We have the highest incidence of melanoma – the most serious type of skin cancer – anywhere in the world.
According to Melanoma Institute Australia, each year more than 11,000 Australians are diagnosed with the disease – and, astonishingly, the rate of melanoma cases actually doubled in the 20 years from 1986 until 2006.
So – it seems – many Australians still just don’t get it.
Education obviously is the key and, in many ways, there have been great leaps and bounds. These days, schoolchildren wear hats during outside play. My daughter, in pre-school, is well versed in knowing to use sunscreen and cover up.
It’s certainly a lot different to when I was a kid – when it was common to see youngsters running around with no hats and little or no sunscreen, the boys kicking the footy or playing backyard cricket without a shirt on.
Since then researchers have learnt so much more about melanoma and skin care. But despite all the media messages, the big ads on the back of buses and undeniable research – many Australians continue to roast in the sun as the mercury rises.
Those who are fair skinned and have a lot of moles are at higher risk of getting melanoma. Women are more likely to get melanoma on their legs, while for men, it’s their back which is the greatest risk area. And the fatality rate is much higher for men – almost twice as many die from melanoma each year than women.
In 2008, I’d noticed what I thought was a nasty looking blood blister on my husband’s back. I nagged him to see a specialist. When he did, it came as a shock to discover it was a melanoma. Luckily it was caught and cut out early. He now has a decent scar to show for it but, thankfully, he has his health.
Many others are not so fortunate.
People spend plenty of time and money looking after their cars, their bikes, their homes, their clothes. If only they would invest in their health by having their skin checked once a year. And those at higher risk every six months. It’s simple. Just make the appointment.
You don’t need to spend much at all for basic skin care. My daily moisturiser has a built in 30+ sunscreen and costs less than twenty bucks from the supermarket. And last time I looked you didn’t need a second mortgage to buy a hat or pair of decent sunnies either.
I also believe that it’s important to not only be vigilant about your own skin care, but to also look out for family and friends as well. If you notice a mole or blemish seem to change shape or appearance, then say something. Identifying melanoma at an early stage is critical.
Keep a spare tube of sunscreen in the glove box in the car, and a couple of hats as well. By all means enjoy the outdoors but keep tabs on how long you’ve been out there for.
1 in 19 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma before the age of 85. It’s a staggering number – and, in this day and age, it’s alarming – but the good news is, with some simple precautions and by setting the right example, we can help change those statistics. It just takes some common sense and basic action. Do it.
For more information on melanoma, the risk factors and sun protection, visit the Melanoma Institute Australia website – www.melanoma.org.au.
Nina May has been a journalist for more than 20 years and now co-hosts First Edition and News Now on Sky News. She is a proud ambassador for Melanoma Institute Australia . You can follow her on Twitter @NinaBMay