Dry, chapped, or parched lips can mean many things. You may simply need a glass of water to increase your hydration, but if you suffer long-term spots of dryness, it may be a sign of something more serious; like skin cancer on your lips.
Can you get skin cancer on lips?
Lips are not an uncommon area for skin cancers. They are exposed to the sun just as much as the rest of our face but often miss the sunscreen application.
On hot days, many Australians flock to the beach (understandably!). Thanks to extensive government awareness campaigns, most people are well-equipped to deal with the harsh UV rays produced by the Australian sun.
However, in between applying SPF 50+ sunscreen, donning wide-brimmed hats and protective clothing, as well as seeking out shade, many of us forget one crucial area of our body that needs protection - our lips!
This is a concern because the Cancer Council reports that if you have Squamous Cell Carcinoma on your lips, it is more likely to spread.
Are parched or chapped lips a sign of lip skin cancer?
Random occurrences of chapped lips are not something to be concerned about. Dry air, dehydration and frequently licking your lips can all cause dry, chapped lips.
But if your lips are consistently dry, regardless of the environment you are in and your hydration, it could be a sign that you have Actinic cheilitis.
Actinic cheilitis is a precancerous condition, most often found on the lower lip, that appears as consistent dryness and cracking. As it progresses, it can turn into a skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). It can be stopped with early diagnosis and treatment, making your regular skin check a crucial part of avoiding this type of lip cancer.
What's the risk of developing lip cancer?
Unfortunately, the risk of getting skin cancer in Australia is high. In fact, researchers estimate that two-thirds of all Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by age 70. Not only that, but approximately 2000 Australians die every year because of skin cancer.
Lip cancers may not be as common, but they can easily happen from sun exposure if you aren't looking after your sun safety and don't get regular skin checks. Due to sun exposure, you are more likely to get skin cancer on your lower lip, as opposed to your upper lip, but lip cancer can happen anywhere.
How to avoid getting lip cancer
We recommend the following approach to avoiding lip cancer, and all kinds of skin cancer:
- Practice proper sun safety for your lips
- Have regular skin checks with a skin cancer doctor
- Avoid other high risk factors for skin and lip cancer
1) Sun safety for your lips
The main aim of sun safety for your lips is to reduce their sun exposure to protect them.
First, it's important to consider the lip balm you are using, and whether it is the best for sun protection. There is a common misconception surrounding lip balms, glosses and oils that when they are applied to lips the moment they show signs of cracking or dehydration, these balms will also provide sun protection.
However, often by using these products, we are just oiling up the dermis of the lips and then roasting them in the sun! Think about it – would you cover yourself in oil before heading outdoors? These balms can be used as a remedy for sun-affected lips once you are indoors, but if you want to protect your lips outside in the sun, look for options with 15+ SPF protection.
As lips do not have a sebaceous gland, which helps lubricate and hydrate the lips, it is a good idea to keep using your chosen SPF protection lip balm once indoors too.
Secondly, don't forget your hat! Hats protect your head to help deter face skin cancers. Seeking shade is another great sun safety technique that will keep your lips protected from UV rays.
2) Regular skin checks for lip cancer
Other than adequate skin protection methods – including an SPF 15+ lip protection – early detection is key in preventing skin cancer on your lips.
Your skin cancer doctor will track any changes to your skin in between appointments and knows all the signs and symptoms of external lip cancer and skin cancer to look out for. They will be able to address any spots or signs of concern before they progress into larger issues. You could avoid more significant lip cancer treatment if your doctor finds it and addresses it early.
Early detection and early diagnosis are imperative, and your survival chances for skin cancer and lip cancer are extremely high if they are caught in their early stages.
3) Avoid high-risk activities that can cause skin or lip cancer
There's no question that activities like tanning, using tanning beds and excessive sun exposure without protection, raise your risk of getting skin cancer.
- But there are other high risk activities to avoid, including:
Smoking can increase your chances of skin cancer on your lips, as well as other types of oral cancer.
- Chewing tobacco also gives you a higher risk of skin cancer on your lips and other types of oral and lip cancers.
- There is evidence that alcohol consumption can be linked to an increased risk of skin cancer and lip cancer.
Plan your next skin check to be sure your lips are skin cancer free.
SunDoctors are skin cancer experts, and with skin cancer clinics located across Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria, they are the perfect place for your next skin check-up.
Jump online to make an appointment, or call 13SKIN (137546) to find your closest SunDoctors Skin Cancer Clinic. Don’t put it off; make sure you get your skin checked today.