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Understanding the Link Between Men's Health and the Risk of Melanoma: 4 Things You Need to Know

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A recent study by the Melanoma Institute Australia shows that 16,800 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year, which is one person every 30 minutes. A shocking 1300 Australians will die from melanoma this year, which is one person just every 6 hours! 

It is our #3 most common cancer in general, but #2 most common for men after prostate cancer. 

Men of Australia, this article will show you the top 4 things you need to know to reduce your melanoma risk and keep yourself safe in the great outdoors including:

1. What causes skin cancer in the first place?

2. Why men are more at risk of skin cancer

3. How you can protect yourself from skin cancer

4. The signs of melanoma to look for on your skin

Australians at Bondi Beach in the Sun

The beauty and danger of the Australian way of life

As Australians, we are blessed to live in one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Our beaches, national parks and outdoor lifestyle are unparalleled and the envy of many other countries. It's no wonder that most of us cherish our time outdoors, with our mates down at the beach or with our families at the local park for a BBQ and a cold one.

We've all heard the slip, slop, slap song, but it can be all too easy to become complacent with weather as incredible as ours, especially if the kids are calling you into the pool, the waves are pumping for a surf, or the job site needs you up there now. 

Melanoma is an ever-present risk and is often referred to as "Australia's national cancer"; not our proudest claim. 

1. What causes skin cancer in the first place?

Before understanding why men are at risk, it's important to know where the skin cancer risk even comes from.

Skin cancer, like all cancers, is formed by damaged cells replicating into tumours. Cell damage can arise from a number of sources, like alcohol, tobacco smoke, chemical exposure and unhealthy lifestyles. For skin cancer, however, that source is the sun.

While the sun is absolutely essential for good health (and responsible for life itself!), too much sun exposure too often can cause damage to our skin cells. When our immune systems fail to destroy these rogue cells, melanoma can develop.

Three types of UV rays come from the sun, known as UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is by far the most dangerous, but thankfully, the ozone layer blocks this radiation and does not reach the earth's surface. UVB is the second most dangerous type, but again, our friend, the ozone layer, manages to catch most of this radiation, though it still lets in 15% of the sun's total bombardment. UVA, however, bypasses the ozone layer and filters through cloud cover, causing sunburn and skin damage, right down to the cellular level if we are not careful.

This means, fundamentally, the more sun you are exposed to, the greater this risk. So, why are men more at risk than women?

2. Why men are more at risk of skin cancer

Typically, but not always, the majority of outdoor jobs are performed by men. Tradesmen and other construction workers, council land maintenance workers, road maintenance crews, farmers and food production workers are all male-dominated professions, but this doesn't tell the whole story.

Unfortunately, research also shows that men don't use as much sun protection as women. In the Australian sun, especially in summer, the UV index can regularly reach very high to extreme for hours per day. While it isn't feasible to stop all outside work for the hours it takes for the UV to decrease again, protecting yourself from those harmful rays is entirely possible. 

One crucial myth we all need to be aware of is that the heat of the day does not directly correspond to the strength of the ultraviolet radiation. A cool and cloudy day is no guarantee of low UV. In fact, a deceptively cool day might deliver more radiation to unprotected skin than a hot and sunny day with protected skin. Cloud cover does help a little, but not entirely, and while UV is a lot stronger in summer, we can easily burn in winter too, with the risk increasing the further north you go.

3. How you can protect yourself

Slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide is the new motto for sun safety and the perfect way to make sun protection as easy to remember as possible.

Slip on protective clothing, including rash vests in the water, fishing shirts on the shore, or long, loose sleeves and pants if hiking or working in the garden.

When the waves are pumping, or the fish are biting, and all you want to do is get outside as soon as possible - it's still important to remember your sun protection. It's easy to just slap some sunscreen on your face. The ears and the back of your neck, your hands and fingers. Unless you are wearing multiple layers, consider applying it to your shoulders, too. 

While clothing offers great protection, you can always double up your protection if you plan to spend hours in direct sunlight. SPF30+ is the minimum recommended, but SPF50+ is much better, providing you with a higher level of cover and protection. Applying it just once is not enough, though, especially if you are sweating on a job site, hiking, or going for a surf, swim, or boating trip, or any other activity that gets you splashed with water. 

Slap on a hat, ensuring it covers your head, neck, and ears, if possible. Wide-brimmed is usually best, but any head protection is better than none.

Finally, seek shade, when possible, and slide on some sunglasses to protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them.

However, while doing the above can very much decrease your odds of developing melanoma, it doesn't eliminate those odds entirely. No one is 100% immune, and the best treatment is prevention and regular skin checks.

4. The signs of melanoma you need to look for

When it comes to detecting skin cancer and melanomas, it is best to observe the ABCDE rule when checking for skin spots, moles and other marks:

  • A: Asymmetrical moles, spots or lesions are more prone to developing into melanoma.
  • B: Borders of moles or spots that are irregular (not round) are at greater risk of becoming cancerous.
  • C: Colours that change or that are irregular in the same spot should be checked further.
  • D: Diameters of spots or moles that are larger than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) are worth investigating further.
  • E: Evolving spots or moles that you notice changes in should be checked by a professional as soon as possible.

Remember, age spots and freckles by themselves are not dangerous, but they are indications of where a lifetime of sun exposure has made changes to the body. Get a partner, loved one, or even a mate to help check those hard-to-see places, like your eyes, neck, back and the backs of your legs. Have your scalp checked for spots or moles, even if you have thick hair, as UV radiation can still reach that skin without protection from proper headwear.

Melanoma can occur anywhere, and while it is more likely in those obvious, more sun-exposed areas (think face, arms, hands, etc.), it has a greater chance of growing undetected in hidden areas. If you have a family history, spend a lot of time in the sun, or have noticed any differences in your skin, a skin exam can help put your mind at ease. 

If you follow the advice above, the only thing left to do is to get any suspicious spots checked out by a skincare professional at a regular skin check appointment. 

Elderly man getting a Skin check

Get your skin checked today

Regular skin checks are for all Australians, not just those who spend a lot of time in the sun. 

The majority of melanoma cases are treatable if detected early, and the best way to do that is to get your skin checked regularly by professionals. Whether you spend your life under the sun or only spend the occasional day outdoors, maintain a vigilant eye on your skin and make sure any strange spots are shown to a professional immediately.

The Drs at SunDoctors are the experts in checking your skin for signs of skin cancer. With skin cancer clinics across QLD, NSW, VIC & SA, make sure you book in to give both yourself and your family peace of mind, letting you and your loved ones get back to work and play that much sooner!

Call us on 13 SKIN (13 75 46) to book your appointment today!

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