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Older Australians living in rural areas warned of increased risk of developing deadly skin cancers

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Older Australians living in rural areas and their carers are being urged to check their skin for signs of melanoma, one of the country’s most common forms of cancer.

Men aged over 60, who are more likely to have worked outside for extended periods during their life, have been found by the Cancer Council to be twice as likely to die from the condition than those who have worked indoors.

Research shows that outdoor workers (such as farmers) can receive up to 10 times the ultraviolet radiation of those who work indoors and their risk of developing certain skin cancers is almost double.

In 2021, 8040 rural Australians were diagnosed with melanoma, which, according to Melanoma Patients Australia CEO Victoria Beedle, prompted the creation of a new campaign Self Skin Checks, No Regrets.

“Older people didn’t grow up in the ‘slip, slop, slap’ age, and there wasn’t a conversation about sun protection when they were children,” Beedle said.

“Many over-60s have grown up running around the paddocks with not much sun protection and are at higher risk.”

Victoria Beedle, Melanoma Patients Australia CEO, says that rural-located older Australians are at a greater risk of developing melanoma, with higher levels of sun exposure and less sun-safe education contributing factors.

Beedle said there are fears skin cancers have gone undetected during the COVID-19 pandemic after a Cancer Australia report found there were 11,245 fewer than expected melanoma procedures carried out in 2020.

Rural Australians can also be at greater risk because healthcare services are not always nearby or easily accessible, she indicated.

“If you’ve avoided going to see your GP during the pandemic, now is the time for a general health check, including a skin check,” Beedle said.

The education campaign, created alongside Melanoma and Skin Cancer Trials, is encouraging Australians aged over 60 and their carers to be aware of the risk factors and to monitor their body for new or changing moles, spots or lesions.

Victoria Mar, director of Victorian Melanoma Service, emphasised that skin cancer could spread to other parts of the body very quickly if left unchecked.

“If people are worried about leaving their farm and travelling to get a skin check, think about the inconvenience and costs involved with managing disease once it’s spread.

“The simplest way to achieve a good outcome is to not delay if you notice anything concerning on your skin.”

Australian cancer data has long shown men are far more likely to die from melanoma than women.

Mortality estimates from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare showed 843 men died of the disease in 2021, compared to 472 women.

Melanoma is the third most common cancer diagnosed in Australia, but only accounts for 2.7 per cent of all cancer-related deaths.

Melanoma is more commonly diagnosed in men than women. The risk of being diagnosed with melanoma by age 85 is 1 in 13 for men compared to 1 in 21 for women. 

What are the warning signs of melanoma?

A spot that has changed in size, shape, colour, elevation or another trait (such as itching, soreness, bleeding or crusting) should be examined by a doctor, as this could be an indication that your spot has evolved from a benign (harmless) spot to a malignant cancer.

You can use the ABCDE checklist to assess a spot for warning signs:

  • A: Is the spot asymmetric?
  • B: Does it have uneven borders?
  • C: Does it contain different colours?
  • D: Is it larger than 6mm in diameter?
  • E: Is there an evolution in growth?

For more information, call the National Melanoma Support Line on 1300 884 450

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