New research reveals majority of Australians aren't taking their own advice about skin safety, leaving millions at risk of cancer
New research from TAL, a leading Australian life insurance specialist, has revealed that more than half (56%) of Australians consider themselves sun smart, yet 87% have not had a skin check in the past 12 months, with 28% never having had one at all.
Skin cancer is one of Australia's most common cancers, with 2 in 3 Australians set to be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70[i] and almost 8 in 10 (77%) admitting they could do more to protect themselves from the sun when outdoors.
The research also reveals that, as a nation, Australians are not taking their own advice when it comes to skin safety, leaving millions at risk of skin cancer as a result of not getting regular skin checks.
Despite 41% of Australians surveyed saying they would always urge their children to wear sunscreen when spending time outdoors, only 19% take their own advice and regularly wear sunscreen themselves. In addition to being more sun safe and taking preventative measures, such as wearing sunscreen, it is just as important for people to engage with regular skin checks to help detect skin cancer.
According to TAL General Manager of Health Services, Dr Sally Phillips, the belief that skin cancer only happens to others is a main barrier to Australians taking preventative action.
"As one of the most easily detectable and preventable cancers, it's so important that professional skin checks and self-checking become an integral part of everyone's health routine.
To encourage more Australians to get regular skin checks and educate them around the importance of skin safety, TAL is launching TAL SpotChecker for the fourth year in a row, providing free skin checks at some of Australia's most iconic beaches over the summer.
"It's clear from our research that although Australians have a natural tendency to be looking out for our loved ones when it comes to engaging in skin safety, this is not the case when it comes to our own skin cancer prevention. The research found that a lack of time is a contributing factor to not getting checked. Through TAL SpotChecker we're aiming to encourage Australians to take a more proactive approach to their own preventative health and understand the need to put their own health first" Dr Phillips said.
In addition to the pop-up skin check clinics, TAL has created a hub of online resources to help Australians find a local GP where they can book a skin check, as well as learn more about skin cancer and how to self-check using the Firstcheck app on their smartphone. Firstcheck enables people to get their skin concerns checked by a doctor – anytime, anywhere.
"With TAL research revealing that 1 in 5 Australians (22%) aren't self-checking their skin for signs of skin cancer, the importance of regular skin checks given the high incidence of skin cancer in Australia is a message that may not be getting through to us. 88% of Australians are unaware that 2 in 3 of us will be diagnosed with skin cancer in our lifetime.
"We're making steady progress with educating people around self-checking. At the beginning of last summer, 72% of Australians said they didn't know the four signs to look out for when examining their skin for skin cancer – a number that now sits at 64%.
"While this number is improving, there's still a lot of work to do in raising awareness about the importance of regular skin checks in detecting and preventing skin cancer. Australians need to be more vigilant than ever with their check-ups each of us needs to put ourselves first and look after our skin. Through TAL SpotChecker, we're hoping to continue educating more Australians and ultimately help save more lives," Dr Phillips said.
In the three years since TAL SpotChecker launched, TAL provided over 3,400 skin checks. Last year, 1 in 5 people were referred for further checks.
Building on the success from the past few summers, TAL SpotChecker will launch at Bondi Beach on the first weekend of summer (30 November-1 December), before heading to South Beach Reserve in St Kilda (7-8 December), followed by Cottesloe Beach in Perth (11-12 January).
Visit www.tal.com.au/tal-spotchecker for more information and resources. There will be limited places available for walk-in appointments.
Question: Why do you believe many Australian women aren't taking their own advice when it comes to skin safety?
Dr Sally Phillips: The belief that skin cancer only happens to others is a main barrier to Australians not taking their own advice when it comes to skin safety. Our research shows that women are less proactive when it comes to getting skin checks compared to their loved ones, with 64% of women admitting they would encourage a loved one to get a skin check, yet 87% have not had a skin check in the past 12 months.
It's clear from our research that women have a natural tendency to be less demanding on themselves than their loved one around skin safety, with 47% of women always urging children to apply sunscreen when spending time outdoors compared to 22% wearing sunscreen themselves. As one of the most common cancers, it's important that we are putting our health first and getting regular skin checks as well as self-checking our skin so that we can continue to be able to care for the people that need us most.
Question: What is the best advice for skin safety?
Dr Sally Phillips: Research from the Cancer Council shows that 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70 and we know that this number would be significantly lower if people took simple measures to protect themselves. Self-checking our skin is key, however 1 in 5 Australians (22%) aren't self-checking their skin for signs of skin cancer. Prevention and detection are key when it comes to skin safety. As well as wearing sunscreen, protective clothing, sunglasses and seeking shade when spending time in the sun, it's important that people are making a habit of regularly self-checking their skin and having a professional skin check each year to aid in early detection.
Question: What are the highest risk factors for skin cancer?
Dr Sally Phillips: Skin cancer is one of Australia's most common cancers, and this can be attributed to a number of factors such as location, lifestyle and skin type. Research reveals that Australia, as a nation, are not taking their own advice when it comes to skin safety, leaving millions at risk of skin cancer as a result of not getting regular skin checks. Skin cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers and is also the one of the most easily preventable and detectable, yet almost 8 in 10 (77%) admit they could do more to protect themselves from the sun when outdoors.
Early detection of skin cancer is key to increasing the chances of having successful treatment and avoiding surgery, so the sooner skin cancer is identified and treated, the better.
Question: How can we organise our own skin check, today?
Dr Sally Phillips: TAL is committed to encouraging Australians to get regular skin checks and educating them around the importance of skin safety, so that's why we've launched TAL SpotChecker for the fourth year in a row, offering free skin checks by specialist skin cancer doctors at some of Australia's most iconic beaches over the summer. In addition, TAL has created a hub of online resources to help Australians find a local GP where they can book a skin check, as well as learn more about skin cancer and how-to self-check using the Firstcheck app on their smartphone. Firstcheck enables people to get their skin concerns checked by a doctor – anytime, anywhere.
Question: What typically happens during a skin check appointment?
Dr Sally Phillips: During a skin check, the doctor will examine the entire surface of your skin, even areas that typically are not exposed to sunlight. In conjunction to this, they may even measure the size of moles or freckles to keep track of whether they change or grow. After examining the surface of your skin, if the doctor has identified anything suspicious using a dermatoscope, further tests will be carried out, such as a biopsy of the spot. It's quick and easy – only takes 15 minutes and could save your life.
Question: What are the signs and symptoms associated with skin cancer?
Dr Sally Phillips: Performing regular skin checks on yourself is necessary. We suggest getting familiar with how your skin looks so you can look out for any sore, changing, abnormal or new spots as these are usually the first sign of a melanoma. Being familiar with your skin allows you to spot changes quickly, and if detected early, melanoma can be treated effectively. If you do spot anything abnormal, visit your GP or a skin cancer clinic straight away for further assessment.
The Skin Cancer College of Australasia recommends that once a month you "SCAN" your skin looking for spots or moles that are:
SORE- A spot which is sore (scaly, itchy, bleeding or tender) and doesn't heal within 6 weeks
CHANGING - In appearance (size, shape, colour or texture)
ABNORMAL - Looks different, feels different, or stands out when compared to other spots and moles.
NEW - Spots that have appeared recently
Interview by Brooke Hunter