Skin Cancer is prevalent in Australia - in fact we have the highest incidence of Melanoma in the world.
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. There are three main types of skin cancer:
basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
According to the Cancer Council Australia, approximately two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with almost double the incidence compared to women. Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australians. In fact, every year in Australia:
skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers
the majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun
GPs have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer
the incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, two to three times the rate in Canada, the US and the UK.
CAUSES of skin cancer
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Anyone can be at risk of developing skin cancer, through the risk increases as you get older. The majority of skin cancers in Australia are caused by exposure to UV radiation in sunlight.
Sunburn causes 90% of melanomas, the most deadly form of skin cancer. In Australia, 1 in 8 adults and 1 in 5 teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend. Sunburn is also common on cooler or overcast days, as many people mistakingly believe UV radiation is not as strong.
Sun exposure that doesn’t result in burning can still cause damage to skin cells and increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Evidence suggests that regular exposure to UV radiation year after year can also lead to skin cancer.
A tan is not a sign of good health or wellbeing, despite many Australians referring to a ‘healthy tan’. Tanning is in fact a sign that you have been exposed to enough UV radiation to damage your skin. This will eventually cause loss of elasticity (wrinkles), sagging, yellowish discolouration and even brown patches to appear on your skin, as well as the increased risk of skin cancer.
Avoid excessive sunlight exposure to the skin
Nicotinamide is a the active form of Vitamin B3. It should be taken morning and night if more than one hour of exposure to sunlight is expected in a day (this includes exposure through glass e.g driving and also if you are in the shade). Through research conducted by dermatologists this vitamin (Nicotinamide) has been shown to protect the body’s immune system from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. This protection is complementary to sunscreen which should still be worn. Please be aware, there is another form of vitamin B3 which is not recommended because it causes flushing. This form is called Niacin. Often the chemist will recommend this form of the B3 vitamin. We recommend that you do not take this form of B3 – wait until you can purchase the correct form. Evidence suggests that nicotinamide supplements can reduce the development of non-melanoma skin cancer in high-risk patients. It may be a useful adjunct to sun protection for non-melanoma skin cancer prevention in patients at high risk.
Use a double layer of sunscreen when maximum protection from UV exposure is required. We recommend a 50+ broad spectrum sunscreen first followed by a zinc sunscreen and continue to re-apply the top layer throughout your day.
It is important to know that a little sunlight exposure is actually imperative to maintain healthy vitamin D levels. We recommend:
5 minutes during summer, and 10 minutes during winter daily in the sun (in Queensland sun) between 10am and 2pm on a minimum of 200 sq CM of skin without sunscreen (equivalent to the back of the hands)
When a small area of skin is exposed you should have 3 to 5 exposures a week
If larger areas of skin are exposed only once a week will be necessary
Ideally you would expose areas of the body that are not sun damaged
Remember the body does not make Vitamin D to any great extent early and late in the day
Try to avoid showering or swimming immediately after exposure as this may reduce the final amount of Vitamin D available
If this exposure is possible you should have adequate Vitamin D levels. If this is not possible consider a Vitamin D supplement. Your GP will know if this is safe for you