A South Australian mother has taken to social media with an important message: wear sunscreen, even in winter. In June, Tracy Warncken, 50, spoke out about her experience with skin cancer which cast a dark cloud over 2022, while simultaneously teaching her an important lesson about sun protection.
Under the impression that the small pimple on her nose was harmless, Ms Warncken attended her annual winter skin check in good spirits, with no reason to believe anything was wrong. However, during her appointment, her skin doctor discovered that the pimple wasn't a pimple at all, but basal cell carcinoma.
What happened after her diagnosis
This led to an uncomfortable journey of having the skin cancer on nose removed, along with two others discovered with further investigation, on her eye and collarbone. Ms Warncken required a skin graft to be taken from behind her ear, and during her follow up appointment, her doctors could not give certainty that all the skin cancer has been removed. This led to an invasive exploratory surgery for the skin to be checked and the cancer removed until it has gone completely.
Ms Warncken shared images of her face, now with ear cartilage in her nose, a black eye and a thick line of stitches around her nose, with a warning to "please wear sunscreen".
Despite her experience, Ms Warncken understands that she is lucky, with basal cell carcinoma being easily solved when treated early, which was made possible through her annual skin check.
Her increased risk of skin cancer, due to having fair skin, too much sun without sunscreen in her younger years, and a life spent exposed to the harsh Australian sun, were thankfully enough to encourage Ms Warncken to seek regular skin checks. If the skin cancer hadn't been caught, and if it had developed into Melanoma, the treatment and outcome would have been very different.
Don't forget your UV protection during winter
Like Ms Warncken, many people choose to have their skin checks in winter to get a clean bill of health before the sunny months begin. However, many people forget that sun damage can happen year round, whether the sun is beaming or you're shivering in your thermal layers. While it's easy to spot the risk when you're baking in sunlight, don't make the mistake of thinking that the sun's rays go on holiday during the cooler months.
Sunscreen should be a staple part of your daily skincare and 'getting ready' routine, no matter the time of year. Not only will the anti ageing properties in sunscreen help with the dryness of winter, but actively fight against the UV rays that can penetrate even thick wintry clouds. Whether you're performing snow sports or working behind a desk rugged up from the cold, don't neglect your sunscreen - it could save your life!
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common skin cancers caused by sun exposure on the face.
One thing all us Aussies have in common is we spend a lot of time in the sun. It is impossible to avoid, whether driving to work with the sunrise beaming through your window, or standing in the fresh air during your lunch break. While the beauty of our sun burned country is world renowned and fantastic to live with, it poses its dangers, of which prevention and knowledge are key.
Follow these steps to stay sun safe
Sun protection is recommended by the Cancer Council whenever the UV rays are above 3. The UV index indicates that the average UV levels of most major cities only dropped to 2 periodically during June and July, the peak of winter. For Darwin and Brisbane, the levels never dip below 4. The best way to keep track of the UV levels in your area is to use the SunSmart app.
In addition to understanding UV levels and their impact, the Cancer Council recommends following these steps to practice proper sun safety, year round:
- Wear protective clothing
Choose clothing that covers as much skin as possible, such as long sleeved shirts with collars. Some clothing even has a ultraviolet protection factor which is ideal for when you're standing watching a footy match or with fishing rod in hand.
- Use water resistant, broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher
Apply generously to clean and dry skin, and let absorb 20 minutes before sun exposure.
- Wear a hat
The face and neck are some of the highest areas prone to new growth of skin cancer cells and nonmelanoma skin cancers. Reduce your risk by slapping on hat whenever you're outside (even in the shade).
- Seek shade
Always choose the shady spots over the sunny ones, and avoid standing in areas of high reflection such as in front of a body of water or even bright snow.
- Wear sunglasses
Sunnies and a hat can reduce your risk of sun exposure by up to 98%, according to the Cancer Council.
Don't neglect your annual skin check
Thankfully, Tracy Warncken had a routine skin check booked right when she needed it the most. Had she missed her appointment or decided it wasn't needed this year, her story may have ended very differently. In her case, it wasn't an obvious spot that would alert typical concern, with the skin cancer easily masked as a pimple. A skin cancer professional is often the only person who can spot these subtle dangers and stop them in their tracks.
Be vigilant and gain certainty today by booking your annual skin check at your local Sun Doctors clinic. Click here or free call 13SKIN to book.