UV PROTECTION INFORMATION
Over-exposure to solar ultraviolet radiation can cause sunburn, skin damage and an increased risk of developing skin cancer. UVR exposure also places our eyes at risk of photokeratitis, photoconjunctivitus and cataracts. The most obvious short-term effect of over-exposure to UVR is sunburn.
The more UVR received, the worse the sunburn becomes. Continued over-exposure for many years, especially in children, can increase a person's risk of developing skin cancer in later life. Skin cancers affect people of all skin types and can also develop on people who do not have a history of severe sunburn. A person's cumulative exposure to UVR along with the number of severe sunburns they have received, especially during childhood, increases their risk of developing skin cancer.
Click on the topic you wish to view or scroll down the page:
- Skin Cancer facts in Australia
- Skin cancer Facts in Europe
- Skin Cancer Facts in USA
- Just six minutes of Sun is too much
- Blockout fails to stop cancer
- What is Solar Ultra-Violet Radiation (UVR)?
- How to reduce your solar UVR exposure?
- Nature and UV Protection
- UV Index Information
- 1 in 3 men and 1 in 4 women will be directly affected by cancer before the age of 75.
- In Australia each year, more than 88,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed.*
- More than half of them will be successfully treated.
- The survival rate for many common cancers has increased by more than 30 per cent in the past two decades.
- But, cancer is still the leading cause of death in Australia - over 36,000 people die from cancer each year.
- The most common cancers in Australia (excluding non-melanoma skin cancer) are colorectal (bowel), breast, prostate, melanoma and lung cancer.
- Cancer costs $2.7 billion in direct health system costs (5.7%)
- $215 million was spent on cancer research in 2000-01, just above 18% of all health research expenditure in Australia.
- About 374,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancer (the most frequently occurring cancer in Australia, but the least life-threatening) also are diagnosed each year.
How does cancer in Australia compare with other countries?
- Cancer incidence in Australia is higher than for the United Kingdom and Canada, but lower than the United States and New Zealand. However, Australia's mortality rates are lower than all four of these countries.
- The melamona incidence rates in Australia and New Zealand are around four times higher than those found in Canada, the UK and the US. However, mortality rates for melamona in Australia are quite low compared to other countries.
- Australia's mortality rate for lung cancer is significantly lower than the US. For men, our death rate is 32% lower than the US and 48% for women.
- Incidence of colorectal cancer in Australia is higher than the US, Canada and the UK, but less than New Zealand. Australia's mortality rates for colorectal cancer are also high by world standards, including above those of Canada, the US and the UK.
Skin cancer is present when malignant cells are found in the outer layers of the skin. The skin protects the body against heat, light, infection, and injury. It also stores water, fat, and vitamin D.
The skin has two main layers and several kinds of cells. The top outer skin layer is called the epidermis. It contains three kinds of cells: flat, scaly cells on the surface called squamous cells; round cells called basal cells; and cells called melanocytes, which give the skin its colour.
There are several types of cancer that start in the skin. The most common are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. Melanoma is more uncommon but is a more serious type of cancer. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but it is most common in places that have been exposed to more sunlight, such as face, neck, hands, and arms.
Types of nonmelanoma skin cancer
Basal Cell (Basal cell carcinomas - BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. These cancers are found in the basal cells, which are at the bottom of the epidermis. It usually occurs on areas of the skin that have been in the sun, most often on the nose. Often this cancer appears as a small raised bump that has a smooth, pearly appearance. Another type looks like a scar and is flat and firm to the touch. Basal cell carcinoma may spread to tissues around the cancer, but it usually does not spread to other parts of the body.
In a few cases, contact with arsenic, exposure to radiation, and complications of burns, scars, vaccinations, or even tattoos are contributing factors.
People who have fair skin, light hair, and blue, green, or grey eyes are at highest risk. Those whose occupations require long hours outdoors or who spend extensive leisure time in the sun are also at risk.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. It starts in the epidermis involving the squamous cells that make up most of the upper layers of skin. Squamous cell cancers may occur on all areas of the body, but are most common in areas exposed to the sun such as the ears, lower lip, and the back of the hands.
Squamous cell carcinoma may also appear on areas of the skin that have been burned or exposed to chemicals or radiation. Often this cancer appears as a firm red bump. Sometimes the tumor may feel scaly or bleed or develop a crust.
Although squamous cell carcinomas usually remain confined to the epidermis for some time, they eventually penetrate the underlying tissues if not treated. Squamous cell tumors may spread to nearby lymph nodes and in a small percentage of cases, they spread to distant tissues and organs. When this happens, they can be fatal.
Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that is not cancer, but sometimes changes into squamous cell carcinoma. It usually occurs in areas that have been exposed to the sun, such as the face, the back of the hands, and the lower lip. It appears as rough, red, pink, or brown, raised, scaly patches on the skin, or cracking or peeling of the lower lip that is not helped by lip balm.
Over exposure to sunlight increases the risk of developing nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis (which can lead to skin cancer).
Artificial sunlight and sunlamps
Being exposed to artificial sunlight can increase the risk of developing skin cancer.
Having a fair complexion (blonde or red hair, fair skin, green or blue eyes, history of freckling) increases your risk.
The level of UV light today is higher than it was 50 years ago because of the reduction of ozone in the earth's atmosphere. Ozone serves as a filter to screen out and reduce the amount of UV light that we are exposed to. With less atmospheric ozone, a higher level of UV light reaches the earth's surface.
Other influencing factors include elevation, latitude, and cloud cover. The rays of the sun are also strongest near the equator. In Antarctica, Chile, and New Zealand, the UV level is much higher than normal especially in the springtime due to the ozone hole in the southern hemisphere.
One factor that actually reduces UV is cloud cover. Climates and micro-climates with regular cloud cover may have a 50% lower level of UV light. The actual amount is affected by the density of the clouds.
Actinic, or solar, keratosis.
Actinic keratoses increases the risk of developing Squamous cell cancer. The keratosis are rough, scaly, slightly raised growths that range in colour from brown to red and may be up to one inch in diameter. They appear most often in older people.
This is a type of actinic keratosis occurring on the lips that increases the risk of developing Squamous cell carcinoma. Lips become dry, cracked, scaly, and pale or white. It mainly affects the lower lip, which usually receives more sun exposure than the upper lip.
These are white patches on the tongue or inside of the mouth and they have the potential to develop into Squamous cell carcinoma.
This is now thought to be a superficial Squamous cell carcinoma that has not yet spread. It appears as a persistent red-brown, scaly patch which may resemble psoriasis or eczema. If untreated, it may invade deeper structures.
Other contributing risk factors
- Having scars or burns on the skin.
- Being exposed to arsenic.
- Having chronic skin inflammation or skin ulcers.
- Being treated with radiation.
- Taking immunosuppressive drugs (for example, after an organ transplant)
Avoid the midday sun
The main way to minimise the risk of skin cancer is to protect the skin from the sun. The following guidelines help to reduce the suns damaging effects.
- Minimize exposure to the sun at midday and between the hours of 10:00AM and 3:00PM.
- Apply sunscreen with at least a SPF-15 or higher, to all areas of the body which are exposed to the sun.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days. Reapply after swimming or perspiring.
- Wear clothing that covers your body and shades your face. (Hats should provide shade for both the face and back of the neck.)
Avoid artificial sunlight
Avoid exposure to UV radiation from sunlamps or tanning salons. UV rays damage skin and can increase the risk of non melanoma skin cancer.
Children's skin is very delicate and can burn easily from the sun's rays. The damage done to young skin may not manifest itself until they are older. It is very important to protect children adequately from the sun's harmful rays.
- Children under six months of age should be kept completely out of the sun
- Keep children older than six years of age out of the sun from 10:00am and 3:00pm when sun exposure is at its strongest
- Apply sunscreen liberally and frequently to children
The following people should ensure they visit their doctor for regular mole checks.
- People with fair skin, whose skin tends to burn quickly
- People who have a large number of abnormal moles
- People with a long history of sun exposure
There is no national screening programme in any European country
Nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis often appear as a change in the skin.
Possible signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer include:
- A sore that does not heal
- Areas of the skin that are:
- Small, raised, smooth, shiny, and waxy
- Small, raised, and red or reddish-brown
- Flat, rough, red or brown, and scaly
- Scaly, bleeding, or crusty
- Similar to a scar and firm
Possible signs of actinic keratosis include:
- A rough, red, pink, or brown, raised, scaly patch on the skin.
- Cracking or peeling of the lower lip that is not helped by lip balm.
The following procedures may be used to diagnose skin cancer:
- Skin examination: A doctor or nurse checks the skin for bumps or spots that look abnormal in colour, size, shape, or texture.
- Biopsy: All or part of the abnormal-looking growth is cut from the skin and viewed under a microscope to see if cancer cells are present.
There are 3 main types of skin biopsies:
- Shave biopsy: A sterile razor blade is used to 'shave-off' the abnormal-looking growth.
- Punch biopsy: A special instrument called a punch or a trephine is used to remove a circle of tissue from the abnormal-looking growth.
- Excisional biopsy: A scalpel is used to remove the entire growth.
Treatment depends on the type of cancer, the size and location of the cancer and the patient's overall health.
After the initial diagnosis tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the skin or to other parts of the body, this is called staging.
A biopsy is often the only test needed to determine the stage of nonmelanoma skin cancer. Lymph nodes may be examined in cases of squamous cell carcinoma to see if the cancer has spread to them.
Four types of standard treatment are used to treat non melanoma skin cancer and Actinic Keratosis (Actinic keratosis is not cancer but is treated because it may develop into cancer).
One or more of the following surgical procedures may be used to treat nonmelanoma skin cancer or actinic keratosis:
Mohs micrographic surgery
The tumor is cut from the skin in thin layers. During surgery each layer of tumor removed are viewed through a microscope to check for cancer cells. Layers continue to be removed until no more cancer cells are seen. This type of surgery removes as little normal tissue as possible and is often used to remove skin cancer on the face.
The tumor is cut from the skin along with some of the normal skin around it.
The abnormal area is shaved off the skin's surface with a small blade.
Electrodesiccation and curettage
The tumor is cut out of the skin with a curette (a sharp, spoon-shaped tool). A needle-shaped electrode is then used to treat the area. The electric current stops the bleeding and destroys cancer cells that remain around the edge of the wound. The process may be repeated one to three times during the surgery to remove all of the cancer.
Cryosurgery or Cryotherapy
This treatment uses an instrument to freeze and destroy tissue.
A laser beam is used as a knife to make bloodless cuts in tissue or to remove a surface lesion such as a tumor.
A rotating wheel or small particles are used to rub away the top layer of skin cells.
2. Radiation therapy or Radiotherapy
Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation beams towards the cancer.
Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping the cells from dividing.
Chemotherapy for nonmelanoma skin cancer and actinic keratosis is usually topical, applied to the skin in a cream or lotion.
Retinoids are derived from vitamin A and are sometimes used to treat or prevent nonmelanoma skin cancer. The retinoids may be taken by mouth or applied to the skin. The use of retinoids is being studied in clinical trials for treatment and prevention of actinic keratosis.
4. Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
Photodynamic therapy uses a drug and a certain type of laser light to kill cancer cells. A drug that is not active until it is exposed to light is injected into a vein or applied on the skin directly. The drug is taken up by all the cells but is retained much longer in cancer cells. Laser light applied to the cancer cells activates the drug and kills the cells. Photodynamic therapy causes little damage to healthy tissue. It is used mainly to treat tumors on or just under the skin or in the lining of internal organs, such as the lungs and the oesophagus.
Biologic therapy /biotherapy or immunotherapy
Biologic therapy is a new treatment in development that uses the patient's immune system to fight cancer. Substances made by the body or made in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against disease.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Treatment of basal cell carcinoma may include the following:
- Mohs micrographic surgery
- Electrodesiccation and curettage
- Radiation therapy
- Laser surgery
- Topical chemotherapy with 5-fluorouracil
- Photodynamic therapy
- Clinical trial of systemic retinoids as chemoprevention
- A clinical trial of biologic therapy
Follow-up skin examinations are important for people with basal cell carcinoma because they are likely to have a new or recurrent tumor within 5 years of the first one.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Treatment of squamous cell carcinoma may include the following:
- Mohs micrographic surgery.
- Simple excision.
- Electrodesiccation and curettage.
- Radiation therapy.
- Topical chemotherapy with fluorouracil.
- Laser surgery.
- A clinical trial of biologic therapy.
- A clinical trial of biologic therapy and retinoids.
Follow-up skin examinations are important for people with squamous cell carcinoma because squamous cell carcinoma can spread.
Treatment Options for Actinic Keratosis
Treatment of actinic keratosis may include the following:
- Topical chemotherapy.
- Electrodesiccation and curettage.
- Shave excision.
- Laser surgery.
- A clinical trial of topical chemotherapy with retinoic acid
World wide skin cancers are very common.
There are approximately 460,000 new cases of skin cancer in Europe each year.
There are more than 46,000 new cases of skin cancer in the UK each year.
There is a year on year increase in the number of skin cancers diagnosed.
Skin cancer is an occupational hazard for those who work outdoors in the sunlight.
If the skin cancer is detected early there is a very high chance of survival. Survival rates are improving thanks to early detection.
- More than a million people will be diagnosed with skin cancer this year.
- The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is rising faster than that of any other cancer.
- One in 5 Americans will get skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.
- One person dies every hour from skin cancer, primarily melanoma.
- By 2010, melanoma is projected to rise to one in 50 Americans.
- Nationally, there are more new cases of skin cancer each year than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung, and colon.
- More than 90 percent of all skin cancers are caused by sun exposure, yet fewer than 33 percent of adults, adolescents, and children routinely use sun protection.
- New research shows that UVA rays cause more genetic damage than UVB rays in the skin cells where most skin cancers arise - the keratinocytes in the basal layer of the epidermis. UVB rays tend to cause damage in more superficial epidermal layers.
- While melanoma is uncommon in African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians, it is most deadly for these populations.
- The majority of people diagnosed with melanoma are white men over age 50.
- Skin cancer is the #1 cancer in men over age 50, ahead of prostate, lung and colon cancer.
Middle-aged and older men have the poorest track record for performing monthly skin self exams or regularly visiting a dermatologist. They are the least likely individuals to detect melanoma in its early stages.
- Men over age 40 spend the most time outdoors and have the highest annual exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
- Melanoma kills more young women than any other cancer.
- In the past thirty years, skin cancer has tripled in women under age 40.
- The incidence of melanoma is increasing rapidly in women under age 40. It is now the most common cancer in young women aged 25-29, and second only to breast cancer in women aged 30-34.
- One blistering sunburn in childhood more than doubles a person's chances of developing melanoma later in life.
- Regular sun protection throughout childhood can reduce the risk of skin cancer by 80%.
- It is estimated that 2.3 million teens visit a tanning salon at least once a year.
- Teens may be especially susceptible to skin cancer because their cells are dividing and changing more rapidly than those of adults.
- In the past 20 years there has been more than a 100% increase in the cases of pediatric melanoma.
- Unlike for adults, there are currently no set guidelines for skin examinations in children.
- Less than half of all teenagers use sunscreen.
- The effects of photoaging (skin aging caused by the sun or tanning machines) can be seen as early as in one's 20's.
Many Australians are still paying the price of their love of the outdoors. Despite the constant warnings about wearing sunscreen and being sun safe, Australia still has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world.
About 1200 Australians die from the disease each year and 270,000 new cases diagnosed.
Experts also warn that two out of three people who spend their childhood and teenage years in Australia will develop some type of skin cancer later in life. To improve these shocking statistics, Australian scientists are leading the way in preventing and treating skin cancer.
Dr. Diona Damian is one of those researchers working towards reducing the number of victims. A senior lecturer of dermatology at the University of Sydney, Damian hopes her efforts will lead to the development of sunscreens that offer better protection against the dangerous UV rays of the sun.
Damian said sunscreens were more effective against UVB rays, which cause sunburn, than UV rays. She said it takes as little as Six minutes of summer sunlight each day for UV rays to suppress the skin's immune responses. The skin's immune system is an important defense mechanism in preventing potentially cancerous cells from developing into tumors. When the immune system is weakened, more cancers will develop.
The Risk Factor (Source: The Cancer Council)
- Skin Cancer is caused by the build-up of Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) in the cells of the skin. This may eventually cause a tumour to develop.
- Unprotected exposure to the sun in the first 15 years of life more than doubles the chances of getting skin cancer.
- The risk of developing melanoma is one in 25 for males and one in 38 for females.
Sunscreens may need to be completely reformulated after researchers discovered the Ultraviolet Rays that cause sunburn are not responsible for skin cancer.
The Sydney University team found UVA Rasy (which do no visibly burn the skin) penetrate more deeply and do more harm than UVB Rays, Which are responsible for sunburn and have until now been considered the main cause of skin cancer. Dermatology Professor Gary Halliday said the finding by his team could lead to a complete overhaul of sunscreens, which currently protect more against UVB than UVA.
'Our data indicates that we need to develop products that can protect from UVA as well as they protect from UVB', Mr. Halliday said. 'I hope it is going to change the emphasis on to UVA'.
The discovery also could have dire consequences for tanning salons, seen as a popular alternative to baking in the sun.
'Tanning salons primarily irradiate people with UVA, which I think is very dangerous', Mr. Halliday said.
UVA has long been known to cause wrinkles and ageing of skin, but has thus far been considered less dangerous than UVB, which has been blamed for causing skin cancer in studies with mice.
Professor Halliday and his colleagues studied the types of mutations in non-melanoma human skin cancers/ 'We found there were a lot more UVA mutations in human skin cancers than UVB-induced mutations, and this has never been shown before. 'Plus, the cells at the base of a tumour, which are the cells which form the tumour, only has UVA mutations in them, no UVB mutations.'
Covering up or staying out of the sun remained the best protection against skin cancer, he said. The Melanoma and Skin Cancer Research Institute has received NSW Cancer Council funding to further the research, he said.
Of the many types of radiation emitted by the sun, mainly visible (light) and infrared (heat) reach the earth's surface. Ultraviolet radiation UVR is also present but we cannot see it or feel it. Ozone in the atmosphere absorbs much of the dangerous UVR before it reaches the ground but we can still receive enough to cause sunburn and more serious health problems.
Solar radiation at the earth's surface consists mainly of visible radiation (light) and infrared radiation (heat). Our eyes respond to visible light and infrared (IR) can be felt on the skin as heat. Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is also present at the earth's surface but cannot be seen and cannot be felt by the skin.
UVR is classified as UVA, UVB, and UVC.
UVB and UVC are potentially the most dangerous to human beings. Ozone and oxygen in the atmosphere absorb all the UVC and most of the UVB before it reaches the earth's surface. UVB is more damaging to the skin and eyes than UVA; however, both UVB and UVA are implicated as causes of skin cancers and some eye disorders.
- Many forms of protection are available to reduce your exposure to solar UVR. The best protection is to avoid going outdoors during the middle of the day. When outdoors, wear sun protection clothing, a hat, sun-glasses and a sunscreen. The following strategies can reduce your UVR exposure:
- Avoid going outdoors when the sun is at its highest. UVR peaks between 10am and 2pm (11am to 3pm during daylight-saving time). This practice can dramatically reduce your UVR exposure;
- Wear clothing designed to cover the arms and legs as well as the body;
- Wear a broad-brimmed or legionnaire style sun hat to shade the eyes, face, ears and back of the neck;
- Apply at least SPF 15 sunscreen to all areas of your body not covered by clothing. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, even on cloudy days. Reapply sunscreen after swimming or perspiring as it can wear off;
- Wear sunglasses when outside. Choose a style of glasses that prevent UVR reaching the eyes. Wrap around styles can also block UVR entering the eyes from the sides;
- Choose shaded areas where you cannot directly see the open sky. Even if you are out of the direct sun, UVR can still reach you from the open sky. UVR can also reflect back from some surfaces increasing the amount of UVR exposure of the skin. Surfaces such as beach sand, white paint, light coloured concrete, snow, water and to a lesser extent soil can reflect UVR onto your skin;
- Sand reflects up to 25% of sunburning UV;
- Over 90% of UV can penetrate light cloud;
- Remember that if the temperature drops it does not mean that the UVR level has also decreased; and
- Protect young children from excessive sun exposure with shade, suitable sun protection swimwear, uv protective clothing, sun hats, sunglasses and sunscreens. They are unaware of the dangers. Apply sunscreen liberally and often to children following the directions on the container. Use pram covers and shades for babies. Model behaviour for children.
- Elephants use wallows to coat their skin in thick layers of cool mud. This not only keeps the animal's temperature down but it also acts as a protective layer against the sun's harmful rays - which proves that even the thick horny skin of an elephant can suffer from the power of the sun
- A zebra's stripes are its own personal cooling system. A ten-degree difference in perspiration from black stripe to white acts as an air-conditioner and, modified by evolution, the closer to the hotter and sunnier regions of the equator a species is, the larger the white stripes.
- The sun is a sphere of luminous gas which is 864,950 miles in diameter with a mass about 330.000 times that of the earth. It is so huge that it can continue to shine at its present brightness for another six billion years. Which leaves us plenty of time to get down to the beach - properly protected of course
- The ability of birds to migrate over thousands of miles is still a mystery. One theory is that they use the sun as a form of compass. Determining the horizontal angle measured on the horizon from the sun's projection, they correct their movements by compensating for the changing angles and are able to hold a constant course.
- Back in the eighteen century in the upper classes, pale, white skin was perceived as being beautiful. The gentlewoman especially protected herself against the sun and adorned herself with long gloves and wide brimmed hat, with a parasol always close at hand - protection that maintained the desirable 'pale and interesting' look.
- Complicated shafts were built into the pyramids' structures and perfectly aligned so that at a certain point the sun's axis would penetrate the shafts with a beam of light into the Pharaohs' tombs. This would allow the sleeping bodies to escape their earthly shackles and to join the sun god Ra in the heavens.
- An auxin (growth regulator) accumulates on the shaded side of a sunflower when conditions of unequal light prevail and because of this the darker side grows faster than the sunlit side, causing the stem to bend towards the sun.
The UV-Index is an indication of the maximum daily level of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) received at ground level.
Check the latest Australian UV-Index
What the UV-Index means
Over exposure to ultraviolet radiation can cause short term health effects such as sunburn. Long term exposure to ultraviolet radiation can increase the risk of damage to the skin and eyes which may result in skin cancers and cataracts.
UV-Index is a measure of the maximum daily level of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) and is related to UVR exposure as follows:
|2 or less||Low||You can safely stay outdoors with minimal protection.|
|3 to 5||Moderate||Wear a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, seek shady areas.|
|6 to 7||High||Wear a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses, seek shady areas. Stay indoors between 10am and 2pm (11-3 daylight saving time).|
|8 to 10||Very High||Stay indoors as much as possible, otherwise use all precautions above.|
|11 or higher||Extreme||Same as previous category above.|
Further information about the UV-Index