Aussie blokes considerably underestimate their risk of skin cancer & most delay doctor visits: new findings

Less than one-in-three Aussie blokes (32 per cent) consider themselves at high risk of skin cancer, despite 82 per cent reporting at least one known risk factor, such as fair hair, skin that burns easily, or spending time outdoors each week.

Moreover, most men (61 per cent) have delayed a doctor visit despite their concern about a health issue, with more than a quarter of full-time workers claiming to be too busy at work and unable to spare the time.

These Australasian College of Dermatologists (ACD) survey findings released today (June 6, 2018), aim to reinforce the importance of early skin cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention among men for Australia’s most common cancer.

According to Dr Alex Varol, dermatologist and Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Sydney, who has witnessed the devastating impact of skin cancer throughout her career, early diagnosis is key to successful treatment.

“As experts in the diagnosis, surgical and non-surgical treatment and management of skin cancer, including melanoma, dermatologists unfortunately see a huge number of male patients with some form of skin cancer.

“Men are at higher risk of developing both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer than women, but are often more reluctant to visit a doctor to have their skin checked. Often it’s not until they know someone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer, that they too, suddenly realise they could be at risk of the disease,” said Dr Varol.

“Removing the primary melanoma at the origin will resolve 90 per cent of cases of the disease, which makes early detection and diagnosis absolutely critical.

“It’s crucial that all Australians, particularly men, prioritise their skin health, by performing regular self-skin checks for changing or non-healing marks, and visit a doctor as soon as they notice anything suspicious,” Dr Varol said.

Professor David Whiteman, Deputy Director, QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute, Brisbane, who recently developed an online tool designed to identify individuals at high risk of melanoma in just 90 seconds, says skin cancer is an exceptionally common cancer.

“An estimated two-in-three Australians will develop skin cancer by 70 years of age, and skin cancer – a disease caused by sun exposure between 95-99 per cent of the time – accounts for roughly 80 per cent of all cancer diagnoses in Australia.

“The risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers increases with age. This risk starts to rise noticeably at 50 years of age, and the risk curve becomes markedly steeper with advancing age,” said Prof Whiteman.

Prof Whiteman is joining dermatologists and male skin cancer patients Australia-wide today, to urge men to pay more attention to their skin.

“What’s most concerning about the new ACD survey findings is that Australian men are failing to recognise they are at risk of skin cancer, despite our country’s high level of UV exposure.

“Melanomas are a deadly form of skin cancer and can quickly spread to other areas of the body. It’s crucial men do not delay a visit to their doctor if they notice changes in their skin, no matter how busy they might be,” Prof Whiteman said.

The average Australian man spends around 15 hours outdoors each week, significantly heightening his risk of skin cancer. But even those men who report multiple risk factors (54 per cent) for skin cancer, fail to consider themselves at high risk of the potentially fatal disease, the survey findings revealed.                                                                                                                                         

Father-to-two, electrician and golf and motorcycle enthusiast, Jeffrey, 59, Sydney, was diagnosed with skin cancer last year after a chance meeting with a doctor on a job site who spotted a suspicious-looking mole on his neck.

Jeffrey, whose father was similarly diagnosed with skin cancer in his late 60s, promptly visited his General Practitioner (GP), and was immediately referred to a dermatologist, who subsequently diagnosed him with melanoma.

“I’m so fortunate that the doctor who I was working for at the time, spotted a suspicious-looking mole on my neck and recommended I visit my doctor urgently for examination. It was such a coincidence, and I will remain forever thankful to him, because he probably saved my life. I couldn’t imagine leaving my wife and my two daughters behind, or how horrible the situation could have proven had I not acted promptly.

“I’d always planned on getting my skin checked in my sixties, around the same age that my dad was diagnosed with skin cancer, but because I was a bit younger, I just put it on the backburner,” said Jeffrey.

Having since learned that an Australian dies every five hours from skin cancer, and after experiencing various other scares himself following his initial melanoma diagnosis, Jeffrey encourages every adult to visit their GP for a skin check, particularly men, especially if they recognise a changing mark on their skin.

“I urge every man, particularly those aged 50 and above, to visit their GP for a skin check sooner, rather than later, because they may fail to notice a suspicious mark on their skin that requires a second, professional pair of eyes.

“Maintaining skin health is critical. Burying your head in the sand could literally kill you,” Jeffrey said.

The ACD survey findings also revealed exposure to someone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer is a strong risk factor that determines personal, perceived risk. Among the survey respondents who knew someone who had been diagnosed with skin cancer, 46 per cent considered themselves at high risk of developing the disease themselves. In contrast, only 12 per cent of the survey respondents who knew no-one who had been diagnosed with skin cancer, considered themselves to be at high risk of the disease.

If you notice any new or unusual marks on your skin, visit your GP immediately and they will discuss your options with you and advise whether you may need a referral to a dermatologist for expert skin health advice.

To learn more about skin cancer and the important role played by a dermatologist in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of skin cancer, visit www.dermcoll.edu.au.

About skin cancer

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells caused by cell damage. This damage can be due to exposure to UV radiation from the sun, or artificial sources such as solariums. Skin cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers in Australia, though it is largely preventable. The disease accounts for around 80 per cent of new cancer diagnoses, with two-in-three Australians diagnosed with a skin cancer by 70 years of age. These rates are higher than those in the UK, Canada and the US largely due to Australia’s much higher levels of UV radiation, a major cause of sunburn and skin cell damage.

About the Australasian College of Dermatologists Male Skin Cancer survey

The ACD Male Skin Cancer survey was conducted online by YouGov Galaxy between March 22-25, 2018. The survey respondents comprised 504 men aged 18 years and older, across NSW/ACT, VIC/TAS, QLD, SA and WA. The respondents included Millennials (aged 18-34 years); Generation X (aged 35-49 years) and Baby Boomers (aged 50-69 years).

About the Australasian College of Dermatologists

The Australasian College of Dermatologists (ACD) is the peak medical college accredited by the Australian Medical Council for the training and professional development of medical practitioners in the specialty of dermatology. The College is a leading provider of resources for the communication of dermatological topics to the community, media, industry and government. The ACD’s mission is to lead the achievement of first class dermatology care and skin health for all Australian communities. The College also aims to raise awareness of the early detection of skin cancer.

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