Up to 90% of skin cancer is caused by too much sun exposure. Normally, after sun exposure, the skin's normal repair system causes the damaged cells to stop reproducing, die and flake off the skin (this is why the skin peels after sunburn). If this mechanism is impaired, and the injured cells continue to multiply, the skin becomes more vulnerable to further damage by the sun.
BCC and SCC have been linked to chronic sun exposure, and tend to occur in areas such as the face that have been repeatedly exposed to the sun.
Even though they do not always occur on parts of the body that have been exposed to the sun, melanomas are linked to excessive sunbathing that causes your skin to be scorched and blistered. It is reported that one blistering sunburn episode during childhood can double a person's risk for developing melanoma later in life.
The people most vulnerable to melanoma are -
- fair-skinned people
- blue-eyed blondes
- people with pigment disorders (e.g. albinos)
- people with many freckles or moles
- workers exposed to substances such as coal tar, radium, insecticides and other carcinogens
Fortunately, most skin cancers are detected and cured before they spread, and the majority of Australians are aware of the need to be vigilant, both about sun protection, and keeping an eye on skin changes. It is when the melanoma is undetected and spreads to other organs that it poses the greatest problem.