Retired teacher shares his experience with skin cancer as men are urged to reduce their risk

Nov 25, 2022
Approximately two in three Australians expected to be diagnosed with skin cancer during their lifetime. Source: Getty Images.

As part of National Skin Cancer Action Week, which runs from Sunday, November 20 to Saturday, November 26, the importance of remaining SunSmart in order to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer comes to the fore.

Alarmingly, Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with approximately two in three Australians expected to be diagnosed with skin cancer during their lifetime.

In addition, it is estimated that almost twice as many men as women will die from melanoma this year alone, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Although rates of melanoma and deaths caused by the cancer are higher among men than women, the latest research commissioned by Cancer Council found that less than half (49 per cent) of Australian men regularly seek out shade to protect from the sun during summer, and less than a third (29 per cent) use sunscreen on a regular basis.

Given such alarming findings, Cancer Council Australia has teamed up with the Australasian College of Dermatologists to encourage Australians to remain Sun Smart, particularly men.

Cancer Council Australia’s Director of Cancer Control Policy, Megan Varlow, said the latest findings indicate that people aren’t doing enough to protect themselves from harmful UV rays.

“Not only does our research indicate that Australian men aren’t being safe in the sun, it also shows that almost half (47%) of men often or always spend time outside during peak UV hours throughout summer,” Varlow said.

“This tells us that more needs to be done to remind people of the easy steps they can take to reduce their risk of skin cancer every day.”

Retired teacher John Clements is all too familiar with the harmful effects of the sun’s rays, after having several skin cancers diagnosed since turning 50.

At least once a year for the past 15 years, Clements has had to receive treatment to remove skin cancers from his face, arms, hands, and legs.

A regular fixture at the beach as a young kid, Clements’ claimed he “didn’t know any better” when it came to sun protection.

“I was a typical kid. We would spend 6- 8 weeks at the beach, all day, every day in summer in our bathers,” he said.

“Mum put baby oil on us. We didn’t know any better.”

Now aged 65, Clements revealed that he has “had many basal cell carcinomas cut off” his face “and a dozen or so squamous cell carcinomas” removed from his calves, back, face and arms.

In addition to being diagnosed with multiple skin cancers, Clements was unfortunately also diagnosed with bowel cancer at age 50.

Clements’ diagnosis spurred him on to be more proactive in looking after his health.

“I became a much better doctor-goer, which is the opposite to most men,” he said.

”After my mother was diagnosed with cancer, I went to my GP to get all the checks and got a bit of a shock diagnosis myself.

“Since then, I’ve learnt to keep on top of my health – I have a GP who I know and trust to look after my skin and I’m quick to take action.”

Just as he was a regular at the beach when he was a kid, in adulthood Clements became a regular at his local doctor’s office, booking a specialist skin check appointment every six months and having basal cell carcinomas burned off regularly.

Now Clements is using his own experience to encourage men to look after their health and their skin through the adoption of SunSmart habits.

“I was a bit blasé about my health back in the day, like a lot of blokes. Now, if I’m out in the sun at all, I make sure to protect myself,” he said.

“My life, and that of my two brothers and sister, would have been much better had we covered our skin up”.

President of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Dr Clare Tait, also spoke of the importance of SunSmart habits and minimising exposure to UV radiation.

Tait also highlighted the importance of regular skin checks and stressed that anyone who has concerns should visit their GP who may refer them to a dermatologist.

“Sadly, skin cancer claims the lives of over 2,000 Australians every year. Yet, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves from the sun and reduce our risk of skin cancer,” Tait said.

“Fortunately, most skin cancers can be prevented by using all five forms of sun protection – Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.

“We know that every region across the country is likely to reach extreme levels of UV over the summer months, so it’s important to remember to always check the UV index before you head outside and use all five forms of sun protection whenever the UV index is three or above.”

In addition to adopting SunSmart habits, it’s important to perform regular self-checks to remain vigilant for any irregularities.

Starts at 60 recently spoke to Queensland Cancer Council‘s Cancer Support and Information General Manager, Gemma Lock to determine what to look out for when performing skin checks and the importance of regular self-checking.

Lock explained that when it comes to preventing skin cancer the public should be “checking their skin regularly and becoming familiar with what is normal for them”.

“Skin cancers rarely hurt and are more frequently seen than felt. Things to look out for include, new moles, freckles or lumps, or any changes to existing spots including changes in size, shape or colour as well as any spots with sores that don’t heal over 4-6 weeks,” she said.

Lock urges people to “speak to their GP as soon as possible” if they find an irregularity on their skin but not to panic if they notice something unusual.

“Although we may notice one or more skin changes, it does not necessarily mean that we have skin cancer. However, it is important that a visit to the GP is made to have them investigated further. Your GP can discuss skin cancer risk and advise on the need for medical checks or self-examination,” she said.

“It can be difficult to know whether something on your skin is a harmless mole or normal sun damage, or a sign of cancer. When in doubt, speak to your GP.

“The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the case of a serious melanoma or other skin cancer.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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