Skin cancer is a common and possibly life-threatening disease that often suffers from misconceptions. In order to understand what skin cancer is, and what it means for Australians, it is important to put this disease in perspective through some facts and statistics.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell and squamous call carcinomas are considered non-melanoma skin cancers and are the most common types of skin cancer in Australia. 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 generally much more dangerous, often presenting little symptoms at first it can spread to other parts of the body which can make 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 of cancer in the country, with two in three Australians diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetimes.
Around 2000 Australians die from skin cancer every year, approximately 1,300 from melanoma and 700 from non-melanoma types of 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 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 a year in Australia.
While people will often come prepared to protect themselves at the beach or at 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, sport or traffic control.
90% of people diagnosed with melanoma will still be alive 5 years after the diagnosis
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare approximately 90% of people who are diagnosed with melanoma will still be alive 5 years after the diagnosis. While cancer statistics in Australia are concerning this does illustrate that there is hope that with the right diagnosis and treatment melanoma can be beaten.
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 amongst 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 the steps to protect oneself with a hat, long sleeves and plenty of sunscreen can make a real difference.