Australia is the skin cancer capital of the world.[i]

According to McMillan, lifelong exposure to high levels of ultra violet radiation causes skin cancer in at least two in three Australians before they turn 70 irrespective of skin type.[ii]

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is a serious disease that can cause disfigurement and in some cases, death. It is the most common cancer amongst Australians.

Queensland has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Queensland experiences tropical and sub-tropical weather and has a large proportion of sunny days. If you live in Queensland, you are at risk of developing skin cancer.[iii]

Skin cancer is caused by an accumulation of overexposure to ultra violet radiation (UVR) from the sun or artificial sources penetrating the skin and damaging living cells. Over long periods it can lead to eye damage and an increased incidence of skin cancers (including melanoma).

Examples of skin cancers

There are three main types of skin cancer:

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common but least dangerous. A BCC appears as a lump or scaly area. It may be red, pale or pearly in colour or a sore that will not heal.
  2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is less common than BCCs and not as dangerous as melanoma but may spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
  3. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. A melanoma appears as a new spot, or an existing spot, freckle or mole that changes and can be anywhere on the body. If left untreated, the cancer cells can spread to other parts of the body. About 1,200 Australians die every year from melanoma.

*Sunspots are not a form of skin cancer, but are a warning sign as they occur on the skin, which has had enough sun exposure to develop skin cancer. Sunspots are small, scaly patches of skin that generally occur on the arms, face, nose and ears.

Early detection

Nearly all skin cancers can be cured if detected and treated early. It is important that you or a medical practitioner regularly check your skin for changes in shape, colour or size of existing freckles, moles or spots. Cancer Council Queensland has information on how to perform skin self-examinations.

Contact a medical practitioner if you are concerned about changes to your skin.[iv]

Be Sun Smart!

Reducing solar UVR exposure is the most effective of preventing all three forms of skin cancer.[v]

The Cancer Council recommends that if you work outdoors in the sun, check how you can protect your skin from skin cancer. For best protection, use all five of the Cancer Council’s SunSmart steps-

  1. Slip on clothing to cover as much skin as possible, preferably a long sleeve shirt.
  2. Slop on SPF 30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen every 2 hours
  3. Slap on a hat
  4. Seek shade
  5. Slide on some sunglasses to protect your eyes

Work-related skin cancer

Outdoor workers and workers who are outdoors periodically will be exposed to the sun and this often means over exposure to UV radiation.  This is particularly the case for Queensland workers in industries such as construction, landscaping, roofing and the like.

Outdoor workers are at a very high risk of developing skin cancer. Due to the cumulative nature of solar UVR exposure, often skin cancers may appear many years after a person has ceased working in outdoor environments.