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How to prevent melanoma

Learn how you can protect yourself against melanoma

How to prevent melanomaAustralia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. Skin cancer is often described as Australia’s ‘national cancer’, yet it is largely a preventable disease.

Melanoma is one of the most serious and life threatening forms of skin cancer. Melanoma makes up less than 3% of all skin cancer diagnosis but accounts for 75% of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma is largely preventable.

Melanoma prevention = UV protection + early detection

You can prevent melanoma from becoming a problem by doing two things:

  1. protecting yourself against UV radiation, and
  2. detecting symptoms early.

It’s easiest to do that by firstly understanding UV.

Understanding UV radiation

Before you can protect yourself from UV, it is important to know what UV is, and what it isn’t. UV stands for ultraviolet. UV radiation is not the temperature. In fact, there is no link between the UV level and how hot or cold the temperature is.

UV is actually electromagnetic energy radiating from the sun at a dangerously short intense-energy wavelength that penetrates through the earth’s atmosphere and reaches the surface, where humans live. When energy radiates from the sun, the shorter the wavelength, the more energetic. And the more energetic the wavelength, the more damaging it is for people when it reaches the earth’s surface in sufficient quantities.

The categories of UV we need to be most concerned about are UV-A and UV-B. UV-A passes through the ozone layer in enough quantities to damage our skin. UV-B is potentially very harmful, but only small quantities reach the earth’s surface. UV-B causes skin cancer, aging and damages our eyes. As the ozone layer depletes, more UV-B is reaching the earth’s surface and it affects all people, no matter what skin colour.

Burning or tanning are the skin’s natural response when skin cells are exposed to UV.

UV Proctection

For more detailed information about UV, please refer to http://www.bom.gov.au/uv/faq.shtml

UV Protection

To protect yourself against UV radiation it is best to understand what you are up against.  That’s easily done if you know the level of UV radiation outside.

Checking the UV Index

The UV index changes through the day, peaking around midday when it is at its most dangerous, as the graph shows below. 

UV Index

The peak UV index also changes each day.  The peak is higher in summer because UV radiation is more intense.

When the UV Index rises above 3 you need to protect yourself from the sun’s UV radiation.  See Perth’s current UV level by typing “WA” and “Perth” into the fields at the top of the realtime UV index page provided by ARPANSA.  See the Australia-wide UV Index forecast here for anywhere in Australia, or download the SunSmart app for your smart phone.

Protect

So now you know what UV is, protecting yourself is easy.

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Remember:

  • Use SPF50+ sunscreen and reapply every two hours.
  • Check the expiry date on your sunscreen. Once it is out of date, it no longer provides proper protection and you will be no longer be protected adequately from dangerous UV radiation.

Early Detection

Early detection means:

  • Check your skin regularly
  • Create a healthy habit by doing this yourself, and
  • Get your GP or dermatologist to check your skin annually or every six months, depending on your personal risk factors.

Early detection and removal of melanoma can lead to a 98% cure rate.

Check your skin regularly

Get to know your skin and check it regularly. When detected early, melanoma can be entirely removed. In most cases, this will be the only treatment required.

Getting to know your skin is easy and doesn’t take long. Make it a habit to examine your skin regularly and be aware of your skin’s different markings, including how your moles look so that you can spot any changes that occur.

If you notice anything new and unusual or a changing mole, make an appointment with your GP immediately.

This guide will help you know where to look:

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Use a mirror or get someone to help you look in hard to see places, like your back.

Make an appointment with your GP or dermatologist

Checking your skin regularly also means going to a GP or dermatologist for a thorough examination under a trained eye. This could be as simple as asking for a skin check next time you are at your doctor, or asking your doctor to write you a referral to a dermatologist.

If you have been told a mole or skin lesion is nothing to worry about and it continues to change, get a second opinion.

What to look for

This ABCD Guide to Identifying melanoma shows you what to look out for:

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