Skin cancer is a common and possibly life-threatening disease that often suffers from misconceptions. To understand what skin cancer is and what it means for Australians, it is essential to put this disease in perspective through some facts and statistics.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are considered non-melanoma skin cancers and Australia's most common skin cancer. While not the most dangerous type of skin cancer, approximately one-third of skin cancer-related deaths are non-melanoma.
Melanoma skin cancer is much less likely than basal or squamous cell carcinomas but is much more dangerous. Often presenting little symptoms at first, it can spread to other parts of the body, making it very difficult to treat.
Skin Cancer is the most common type of cancer in Australia
According to the Cancer Council, there are over 400,000 people diagnosed every year with non-melanoma skin cancer and over 13,000 with melanoma in Australia. This makes skin cancer the most common form in the country, with two in three Australians diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetimes.
Around 2000 Australians die from skin cancer yearly, approximately 1,300 from melanoma and 700 from non-melanoma skin cancer.
Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world
Australia, alongside New Zealand, has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Australia has a two to three times greater occurrence of skin cancer than other English-speaking countries like the United States or the United Kingdom. Is it, therefore, very important to remain sun smart and protect the skin from possible damage.
Occupational exposure to the sun is a prevalent cause of skin cancer and causes up to 34,000 cases annually in Australia.
While people will often come prepared to protect themselves at the beach or a barbeque, people often overlook the need to do so while at work. Occupational skin cancer is a common cause of the disease worldwide, particularly in jobs that involve heavy sun exposure, such as construction work, sports or traffic control.
90% of people diagnosed with melanoma will still be alive five years after the diagnosis
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately 90% of people diagnosed with melanoma will still be alive five years after the diagnosis. While cancer statistics in Australia are concerning, this illustrates that there is hope that melanoma can be beaten with the proper diagnosis and treatment.
However, treatment for melanoma can be difficult and prolonged, so prevention through proper sun protection and being ‘skin aware’ is the best defence against this deadly disease.
Rates of melanoma are falling among younger people
The heartening news is that while still a common disease, skin cancer has begun to fall in younger people, this can be directly related to the increasing skin cancer education and the willingness to take precautions against the sun. It illustrates how taking steps to protect oneself with a hat, long sleeves, and plenty of sunscreens can make a real difference.