Skin cancer prevention

Written by Dr Jill Tomlinson on .

Bman in water on flotation deviceeing outdoors in summer is a great part of life in Australia but it's also the reason Australians have extremely high rates of sun damage and skin cancer. To protect your skin use the Sunsmart UV Alert Guide to look up daily UV levels and sun protection recommendations. It's a great way to plan your activities and sun protection to maximise your skin safety. Downloading the application to your smartphone is a great way to keep it on hand.

To maximise your skin safety follow this Australian Cancer Council advice:

  • minimise sun exposure when the SunSmart UV Alert is >3
  • minimise sun exposure between 10am and 3pm when UV levels reach their peak
  • seek shade
  • wear a hat that covers the head, neck and ears
  • wear sun protective clothing
  • wear close-fitting sunglasses
  • and wear an SPF30+ sunscreen

If you've ever doubted the effectiveness of sunscreen, the video below is an amazing demonstration of how you look to the sun with and without sunscreen. Please take the time to watch it - and keep watching until the sunscreen goes on!

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When you're applying sunscreen be sure to ask someone for assistance if there are exposed areas of your skin that you cannot reach - otherwise you may find yourself in pain with sunburn like this man pictured on the left. Ouch! Sunburn increases your risk of melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, as well as ageing your skin prematurely - so if you can't find someone to help you apply sunscreen then keep your shirt on!

The Sunsmart UV alert guide can be found at the Sunsmart website.

Skin Checks

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The Australian Cancer Council recommends that all adults, particularly those aged 40 and over, should:

  • become familiar with their skin
  • check all areas of their skin, including skin not normally exposed to the sun
  • look for changes in shape, colour or size, or a new spot – if you notice anything unusual, see your doctor straight away
  • seek assistance from others to check difficult to see areas, such as their back.

beachsunsmarttentandhatYou should have your skin checked at least once a year; if you are at high risk of skin cancer then checking your skin at least every 3 months is wise. This Body Map, a mirror and the Sunsmart 5 steps for skin self-examination are very useful tools to help you perform a skin self-examination. Many people find that doing a skin check with a close friend or family member makes it easier to see difficult areas (like behind your ears, and on your back).

To help you know what you are looking for Sunsmart has produced a 2 page PDF guide to skin cancers, warning signs and harmless spots that can be viewed here: How to check for skin cancers.

If you have any concerns about your skin always seek assistance from a qualified health professional. Where there is doubt or uncertainty about a skin lesion a biopsy is a reliable method of determining what treatment you need.

Website Disclaimer

This website is authored by Dr Jillian Tomlinson, a fully qualified plastic, reconstructive and hand surgeon who practices in Melbourne, Australia. This website aims to inform patients and health professionals about hand surgery, illness prevention and the practice philosophy of Dr Jill Tomlinson. This website's content is designed to complement, not replace, the relationship between a patient and his/her own doctor. The information is not intended to replace the advice of a health professional. This website does not host or receive funding from advertising or from the display of commercial content.