Exposure Problem: How Sun Damages the Skin

skin cancer new south walesAfter another long, hot, Australian summer, now is the ideal time for many of us to visit our doctor for a skin check.

According to www.sunsmart.com.au, around 2000 Australians die from skin cancer every year, making skin cancer the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australia today. With two out of every three Australians facing skin cancer by the age of 70, our nation has one of the highest rates of skin cancer anywhere in the world.

Preventative measures

While our outdoor lifestyle and depleted ozone layer makes us highly susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun, in many cases skin cancer is largely preventable.

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is the major cause of skin cancer and skin can burn in just 15 minutes under our summer sun. UV radiation can be high even on cool or overcast days. This means you can’t rely on sunny skies or top temperatures to indicate when you need to protect yourself.

So for a quick refresher course in helping to protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun:

  • Slip on protective clothing;
  • Slop on some sunscreen;
  • Slap on a hat;
  • Seek shade; and
  • Slide on some sunglasses

Types of cancers sun exposure causes

There are three main types of skin cancer resulting from sun exposure. These are:

Basal cell carcinoma

The most frequent, yet least aggressive skin cancer form, typically developing on areas commonly exposed to the sun including your face, ears, neck, scalp, shoulders, or back. Basal Cell Carcinomas appear as a shiny bump, open sore, reddish patch or pink growth. They remain in the one area and do not spread. Treatment involves a one-time treatment to surgically remove the infected area.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

More aggressive than basal cell carcinoma, these types of skin cancer can result from excessive sun exposure or exposure to carcinogenic chemicals. These do have the ability to spread to other areas of the body such as the lymph glands. Spreading typically occurs if the cancer is larger or has been growing, untreated, for a long period of time. Treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer and close monitoring of the lymph glands in the area.


The most aggressive form of skin cancer, melanoma is also the least common. If not detected early, melanoma may spread to the surrounding lymph glands or other organs. It is important to note that melanoma can also appear on parts of the body not usually exposed to the sun.To treat melanoma, the affected skin needs to be surgically removed, along with a rim of normal skin surrounding the infected area.

Treatment Options for Skin Cancer

Treating skin cancer requires removal of skin in the affected area. Procedures are usually performed under local anesthetic and in most cases, stitches are used to close the wound, leaving a straight-line scar. For certain areas of the body or larger cancers, a skin graft may be necessary.

The Melbourne Institute of Plastic Surgery has a specialist team skilled in the removal and reconstruction of all types of skin cancers. Engaging a specialist surgeon to perform this procedure helps to minimise scarring and can reduce trauma to the skin and surrounding tissue.

Age spots and sunspots

Many spots that appear on your skin can be non-cancerous, however you may still want them to be removed due to their appearance or ability to become cancerous. Specialist surgeons at the Melbourne Institute of Plastic Surgery regularly perform procedures to remove non-cancerous spots.

Sunscreen recommendations

In Australia, the Cancer Council recommends using any sunscreen that is labelled broad spectrum, water-resistant and has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 or above. Broad-spectrum refers to sunscreens that filter both UVA and UVB rays. UVB is the main cause of sunburn, but both UVA and UVB contribute to increased skin cancer risk.

Whatever sunscreen you are using, the Cancer Council states that application is the key. The recommended amount for an average sized adult, is around one teaspoon to each arm, leg, front of body, back of body and face (including neck and ears).

You should never use sunscreen to prolong your tanning time and for maximum effectiveness you need to apply sunscreen to clean, dry skin at least 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply every two hours.


If you have any cause for concern, or maybe just because you haven’t been in awhile, make an appointment with your doctor to have your skin checked today. And remember, prevention is always the best cure. To learn more or to arrange a confidential consultation visit the Melbourne Institute of Plastic Surgery or call 03 9508 9508.