4 April 2023

Higher risk of Melanoma for Professional Athletes and Outdoor Workers

Author - Claudia Tolhurst, Hunter Melanoma Foundation

Melanoma is often referred to as Australia’s National Cancer because it is the deadliest form of skin cancer.  Australian’s are seen as having one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world.

Does this shock you or did you presume this would be the case?

In the 1980s when Newcastle had the highest incidence of melanoma in Australia, local surgeon, Dr Bob Sillar and his colleagues co-founded the Newcastle Melanoma Unit to save patients having to travel to Sydney for treatment.
Shortly after, the Hunter Melanoma Foundation (HMF) was formed to support the continuation of the Unit, and drive community change around melanoma.

Since 1986 HMF has worked to raise awareness and educate the community on the importance of early detection and prevention, provide vital support services to those affected by melanoma, and research into this horrible disease.

Data released in 2022 by the Cancer Institute NSW, lists the Local Government Areas (LGA) in NSW who feature in the top 25 melanoma hot spots in the state. Port Stephens was 12th, Lake Macquarie 15th, Maitland at 20th and Newcastle at 24th. Whilst we are no longer sitting at number 1, we still have work to do to move the local LGA’s out of the top 25 list of melanoma hotspots, so how do we do that?

Some of the areas of concern are outdoor workers and professional athletes. Both groups are often exposed to higher levels of UV radiation than the general population, which puts them at increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma.
Many outdoor workers and athletes may not have access to shade or may not be able to work or train indoors, which increases their exposure to UV radiation. Adequate sun protection, such a hat, long-sleeve shirt and sunscreen may not be present.

It is important for all Australians with increased UV radiation exposure to take steps to protect their skin. This includes wearing protective clothing such as a wide brimmed hat, using broad spectrum SPF50+ sunscreen, seeking shade when possible, and polarised sunglasses.

Early detection of melanoma is vital when it comes to successful treatment. 90% of patients experience a complete cure after surgical removal, but only if the melanoma is found early.
For this reason, it is vital to know the skin you’re in. Be aware of your own skin, knowing what is normal for you so you can detect any changes early. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body but is commonly found on areas that are regularly exposed to the sun.

A way to remember: when to check your own skin is Change of season, check for change. At the beginning of each new season check your skin for any changes such as new moles or spots, changes in size, colour or shape of any existing spots or moles. If you notice any changes, it is important and often life-saving, to see a doctor as soon as possible for evaluation.

In addition, make sure you book in for a professional skin check every 12 months.

HMF is here to help educate the local community on the importance of early detection and protection of melanoma. A skin check takes 10 minutes and can save your life.