01 Feb 2007 11:12 AM
I am posting this message in the hope of saving lives.
The fact that Australia has the highest skin cancer rate in the world is well known. What may not be known is that there are various forms of skin cancer - some non-serious, others lethal - and they affect a whopping 1 out of 2 of Australians at some stage in their life. Yes, that's true!
What is also widely known is the role that UV has in skin cancer and also that people with fair skin and of British/Celtic descent are particularly at risk. However, what may NOT be known is that, with the more serious kind, melanoma, occasional heavy sunburn is apparently more a trigger than is constant, more gentle exposure to UV. Also, of particular relevance in the risk of developing serious skin cancer in later life (with children it is very rare), what is a significant factor is the amount of sunBURN (as opposed to gentle tanning) received during childhood and youth.
This being the case, the most seriously at risk group are fairer skinned British/Celtic children who migrate before the age of around 15 (and particularly before the age of 10); then get a sudden unexpected burst of sunburn through newly migrated parents not appreciating just how strong the sun and UV content here (even on less sunny days) is; and go on to develop serious skin cancer in later life. If your children arrive here before the age of 15, they run the same risk as Australians who were born here. However, if they arrive after about age 15, their years spent in a less sunny climate are statistically shown to afford them some protection and their risk is only one-quarter of that of someone who has lived in Australia since birth.
So the children in particular are incredibly vulnerable. All the covering up, staying out of the sun between 10 and 4 and using sunscreen advice sounds about as relevant as an airline seatbelt safety demo when you've heard it for the umpteenth time. But is is SO, SO dangerous, very real and there are loads of people here with bits of their arms, legs, faces etc missing, so the warnings must be heeded.
If you are black, you run a significantly lower risk, but do remember that there are other forms of skin cancer that can affect you, eg on the soles of the feet etc. If you have Mediterranean/olive type skin, or your kids have, you still shouldn't take any chances: although the fact that such skintypes burn less easily probably affords some protection against the sunburn induced melanomas, our mole clinic doctor told us that they still see about a couple of Mediterranean people a year who have melanoma.
Everyone MUST go to the molescan clinics every 12 months on arrival here. Remember, if you are British, you have a very good chance of getting skin cancer. And keep checking yourself regularly between appointments. The skin clinics should be on your list to visit right up there with Centrelink, Medicare etc. After all, it's in your first few months here, when you are unaware of how even a 10 minute exposure while hanging out the laundry in the backyard can give you a blistering sunburn on your shoulders in midday sun, that you are most at risk of having the accidental sunburns that can later trigger melanoma - which is very dangerous and life-threatening.
Remember, though, that with proper coverage, sensible habits and routine exams, you should all be fine and anything really nasty is completely curable if caught early.
So don't let it put you off coming!
02 Feb 2007 1:06 AM
|Another thing people may not realise when they first arrive is that you easily burn on a very cloudy day (rare as they are) and in a much shorter time than you will be used to. Don't be fooled into thinking it is just like being on holiday in Spain either. The sun here is much stronger - in part due to latitude, in part due the thinning in the ozone layer and in part, perversely, - if you live in Perth or Queensland -due to lower pollution levels.
By the time you feel yourself burning it is often too late - especially on the beach when there is a breeze. Slap it on by the clock not by how you feel, especially for kids, and always reapply after swimming.
We've been burnt since arriving (though thankfully rarely and not too badly) and this has been
a) cloudy days
b) on the beach when we've not religously reapplied the lotion every couple of hours or after swimming.
c) walking about car yards looking at cars (probably the worst sunburn I've had since arriving on my face and temples). And I was only out a couple of hours and probably no longer then 15 mins in any particular yard.|
02 Feb 2007 7:21 AM
|You are right about childhood exposure. Are you sure about Australia having a higher rate than the UK though. I understood that the UK had a very high rate because of our habit of getting burnt annually on our two weeks in the med. The Aussies on the other hand are very sun aware.
I got badly burnt aged nine when we first arrived in Aus and skin came off my back in huge strips. After that though, I never burnt again in Australia. I used to get a bit sore after the first big shirt off day at the start of each summer, but never burnt badly like the first time. I never wore any form of sunscreen apart from zinc on my nose which was more to do with surf fashion than skincare. I remember when we returned to the UK, seeing a load of teenagers going home from school on our second day here. To me it looked like a scene from dawn of the dead. I couldn't get over how white they all looked. No one in Australia ever went white. Shades of brown, or for fair skinned types, shades of red. The only white people were the newly arrived POMS.
Unfortunately for me, this makes me a prime candidate for skin cancer in later life (around about now as it happens).
Our kids never go out unless they are wearing a lead lined suit (not quite but you know what I mean). We got rashies for our kids to wear on holiday and they never go out without sunscreen on from May to September.
It still amazes me though, the number of British kids you will see in the Med with chronic sunburn. The parents should be locked up.
The Aussie sun is very strong and it will find any chink in your armour. Beware the centre parting(on your head) or even thin seams on tee shirts. Any slight gap and it will get you.
02 Feb 2007 3:48 PM
Yes, you are right about leaving any tiny little chink of flesh uncovered or not smeared in cream and the sun will get you. Even my mother-in-law, who should know about the risk of sunburn because she lives in South Africa, was amazed at how she got 'chargrilled'-look sunburn on her feet in Perth because she didn't grasp that she actually had to put the cream, as well, between the straps of her sandals. AND she has olive skin (family originally from Portugal)!
(BTW I hope charlie is reading this, just in case he is tempted to display builders' backside beneath that rashie whilst out doing his brickie work - even butts aren't immune you know, Charlie!!!.... Eeeugh, the thought of it!!!!!)
I think you know by now, Jim, how pro-Australia I am, so believe me, in my PR campaign, I am the first to try and seize any snippet of info that may suggest that Australia is anything other than top of the global list for skin cancer. But everything I've read and been told by the doctors at our skin clinic has definitely made me drop any attempt to try to tell anyone else anything different. However, actual FATALITY rate from skin cancer it's a totally different ballgame...
What IS significant (and reassuring) about Australia is that, while we have a high incidence of skin cancer (more than 1 in 2 Australians), (a) with increased awareness of the fact that we live in the part of the world where the ozone layer is the thinnest, we have become the best in the world at detecting and treating it early so our mortality rates may be better and (b)the majority of the skin cancers occurring here are not of the serious, melanoma type and are absolutely treatable. Melanoma occurs in about 1 in 25 people in Queensland (the highest incidence in the world); in the US (there is a part of the US, including California, with a high incidence) it is 1 in about 130 or so overall (I think), but more in the sunny parts; while in Northern Europe/Scandinavia it is only 1 in several thousand people.
You are right, though, about what you say about the UK. Skin cancer incidence there is still relatively low, but over the past 5 years, the ozone layer over the densely populated UK (I am only reporting what I have heard, mind) has thinned particularly rapidly - which could explain partly, the increased incidence of skin cancers. But what is really influencing it - and you're dead right here - is people crozzling themselves once a year on foreign beaches before returning to their normal deathly pallor. THIS is the danger for the really serious cancer, melanoma - and YES, in that sense you are perfectly correct to observe that with this form of cancer you could be just as at risk living in Croydon by burning yourself 3 or 4 times badly in Benidorm (and particularly so if this happens in childhood and youth) as someone who lives well protected with clothing and screen, tanning gently all their life in Australia. In fact, a gentle tan actually affords some protection - but only about SPF2, so you still need to slip-slap-slop.
The fact is that melanoma frequently appears in areas of the body that are not normally exposed to sun (except maybe in a bikini for one-offs). Typically, it will lie dormant and surface maybe 20 years later, possibly in a previously benign mole that's always been there. So you're right, you should be checking NOW all the time, in mid-life, if you have been burned in your youth more than, say, 3 times.
And, to be able to get into a clinic relatively easily and very cheaply, without private health cover, and have great diagnostic equipment at the ready, the place to be (perhaps ironically) is Australia!!!! From what you say, Jim, you should check in as soon as you arrive here and go for annual checkups ever aftre.
I cannot stress this enough to you all. I have dark hair and eyes, not all that fair skin, don't go lying on the beach for hours on end, come from a family where they all live to their nineties and never get sick, yet I have had malignant melanoma. The area in which mine surfaced was usually covered by clothing, but in my teens, I had burnt myself a couple of times trying to get a tan in France to impress the lads (and look slimmer!)
Moreover, when I was diagnosed, I was under a molescan clinic for regular 12 monthly checkups and was clear, so shouldn't have had anything to worry about. HOWEVER, between appointments, I might add that it is important ALSO to self-exam your ENTIRE body every month. Fortunately, I noticed that a mole had enlarged just 10 months after my previous checkup, so went to the clinic (free of charge on Medicare, by the way, for anything after your first appointment in any one year, which will cost about $15 out of your own pocket after the Medicare rebate - kids are FREE) and said I was not happy. My mole didn't look particularly sinister so initially they suggested taking a photo and reviewing in 3 months (it was not very big and didn't look very bad). But I asked them to look again as it was VERY slightly irregular and they decided, just to be on the safeside, to whip it off and send it to the lab. THE VERY NEXT DAY (note: biopsies in Oz do NOT take two anxious weeks to come back) I was told I had had very early stage melanoma. Utterly curable and I have a 98% of being alive in 5 years. Another few months with this undetected and I would probably not have been around to see my kids grow up. I now have to live with melanoma for the rest of my life and go to the clinic every three months for the next several years.
So this is all I can tell you guys from personal experience and from what I am being told by the people in the current 'know' at my clinic. Yet I come out of the clinic each time into the sunshine and all I can see is young people with moles galore (and I have 'good' skin, ie with very few moles, which is a blessing in managing my treatment) lying out on the grass in strappy tops and I just want to tell them how very serious melanoma is. If you DON'T get it early, it goes into your lymphs, lungs, brain - everything! - and can kill you even in weeks. It is very scary, so PLEEZ, Aussiemovers, take care of yourselves and your bairns. Now that I'm high risk, my kids are always protected and are also going once a year for a check-up - just to be on the safe side...
Love to all,