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.