Sense in the Sun: Skin Cancer Awareness
In Australia each year more than 2,000 people die of skin cancer During National Skin Cancer Action Week 2017 (19–25 November). Let’s remember to protect ourselves and our family from sun damage. Skin cancer is common in Australia. Approximately two-thirds of Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.
In 2017, it is estimated that 13,941 new cases of melanoma skin cancer will be diagnosed. As summer approaches, these statistics should serve as a wake-up call to all Australians about the importance of sun protection. The incidence of skin cancer has risen in Australia. In 1982, the number of new cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed was 3,527, and this has increased to 12,744 new cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed in 2013.
Types of Skin Cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Australia, and is more common in men, with almost double the incidence compared to women. Over 750,000 people each year are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia. Melanoma is the third most common cancer affecting Australians (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer), and the most common cancer in Australians aged 15– 29 years. While the five-year relative survival rate for melanoma is 88% for Australian men and 93% for Australian women, unfortunately in 2014 more than 2,000 people in Australia died from skin cancer. Fortunately, most skin cancers can be prevented simply by ensuring good sun protection.
Tips for Preventing Skin Cancer
National Skin Cancer Action Week 2017 (19–25 November) reminds us of what we can do to ensure good sun protection:
- slip on sun-protective clothing
- slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
- slap on a broad-brimmed hat
- seek shade
- slide on sunglasses
There is no such thing as a safe tan. Solariums are banned in Australia as they are not a safe way to tan and significantly increase the risk of skin cancer.
RELATED: Show You Care About Beating Cancer
‘Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide’
The ‘Slip, Slop, Slap’ campaign, initiated over 35 years ago, has been recognised as one of Australia’s most successful health campaigns. The campaign has more recently been modified to ‘Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide’ (referring to seeking shade and sliding on wraparound sunglasses to prevent sun damage). A combination of these sun protection measures along with getting to know your skin and regularly checking so you can pick up on any changes are the keys to reducing skin cancer risk.
Australian research finds a reduction in non-melanoma cancers with twice daily Niacinamide (Vitamin B3)
A trial was conducted across the Royal Prince Alfred and Westmead Hospitals and included 386 patients who were randomly assigned to receive either a twice daily dose of nicotinamide or a placebo for one year. All the patients had been diagnosed with at least two non-melanoma skin cancers in the previous 5 years, which meant they were at a high risk of developing more cancers. During the twelve months of the study, this group of patients collectively grew 800 new skin cancers.
The team found that at 12 months, the rate of non-melanoma skin cancers was 23% lower in the nicotinamide group than in the placebo group. The number of precancerous lesions was also 13% lower among the people taking nicotinamide compared to those not taking nicotinamide.
Professor Diana Damian, the lead researcher in the study, has emphasised that using nicotinamide to prevent skin cancer is a high-dose treatment rather than a supplement. “This treatment is only for people with a defined medical condition – multiple skin cancers. It’s not suitable for the general population, as we do not have any evidence that it would be beneficial in a lower risk setting.”
Before taking nicotinamide, people should consult with their dermatologist or general practitioner to see whether nicotinamide is suitable for them. It is also very important that people planning to take vitamin B3 take the amide form, nicotinamide, and not the nicotinic acid form. “Nicotinic acid has a range of unpleasant side effects – including flushing, headache and low blood pressure – that we don’t see with nicotinamide”, says Professor Damian.
At Fresh Therapeutics, we stock nicotinamide tablets and our staff can provide information about the medicine.
Other Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer (including both melanoma and nonmelanoma) is the most common cancer in Australia, with melanoma the most deadly form. Not to be understated, there are also other skin cancers which can be malignant and cause painful and disfiguring lesions.
These are more commonly known as sunspots. New therapies are now available to treat pre-cancerous solar keratosis.
- These spots can vary in appearance.
- They may appear scaly, rough or wart-like.
- They are common on sites which are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the backs of the hands and the face (including the ears, nose, cheeks, upper lip, temples and forehead).
Getting to Know Your Skin
It is important to get to know your own skin and identify sun damage. A first step is to check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have doubts about any changes either in skin appearance or in the colour of moles and freckles.
A new spot or an existing spot that changes in colour, size or shape should be checked by your doctor.
The Cancer Council website also has useful information on checking for signs of skin cancer: www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sunprotection/check-for-signs-of-skin-cancer.html
At Fresh Therapeutics, we can help you to choose the best sunscreen for your skin and provide advice on how to be SunSmart. We also have a range of after sun preparations and provide the Pharmaceutical Society Self Care Fact Card entitled Sense in the Sun.
Acknowledgement: Pharmaceutical Society Self Care Program Health Column