90 – Skin cancer

As part of her work as as a public education officer for the Cancer Council, my wife Pauline has a weekly column in the local newspaper, the Albany Advertiser. One of her recent columns featured me. Here it is.

“My husband David is not much of an outdoors man these days, but as a kid he spent a lot of time paddling his foamy surfboard on the Canning River, riding his bike and building precarious cubbies in the eucalypts in the paddock behind his house. When I first met him twenty-five years ago I used to tease him that his version of a tan was when all the freckles joined up.

It doesn’t feel like such a good joke any more. Dave was a fair skinned freckled kid who had plenty of painful sunburns. Back then, sunburn was seen more as an inconvenience than a health risk.

Dave has just had yet another suspicious spot sliced off his hand. This one turned out to be one of the more serious non-melanoma types, a squamous cell carcinoma. While the squamous cell carcinomas are not as dangerous as melanomas, they can spread to other parts of the body if not treated.

This is the third skin cancer he’s had removed since his fortieth birthday. So far they have all been of the non-melanoma type but with his history, skin type and age, Dave has a higher risk of developing more skin cancers. Even without these additional risk factors, Australian men have a lifetime risk of one in twenty-five for developing melanoma. The risk is one in thirty-four for women. Around 1000 people die from melanoma in Australia each year.

Like lots of men David used to put off visits to the doctor. Now, (with a bit of help from me), he does regular examinations of his skin and makes routine appointments with his GP for skin checks. He knows that this will give him the best chance of finding the skin cancers at an early and highly treatable stage.

I hope I’ll still be helping Dave check his wrinkly skin forty years from now.”

David Pannell, The University of Western Australia