Men urged to watch their backs

Every year, the third week in November is Skin Cancer Action Week to kick off all the important sun protection and skin cancer prevention messages for the summer.

This summer, Cancer Council Australia is issuing a stark warning to Australian blokes; every day, two men aged 45 or over die of melanoma.

Men aged 45 and over are at more than double the risk of dying of melanoma than women of the same age and yet they’re still failing to take sun protection seriously.

New Cancer Council research from the National Sun Protection Survey shows only 24 per cent of men aged 45-69 reported wearing sunscreen and 12 per cent – the equivalent of almost 400,000 men – still believe a tanned person is actually healthier. 

Although melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, around 1-in-3 cases in men occur on the back.

Tennis legends John Newcombe and Tony Roche, who have both had skin cancers, are lending their support this summer by urging men aged 45 and over to ‘watch your back’ in two ways: always protect yourself in the sun and check your entire body for skin changes. Ask your wife, partner or a mate to check your back, and anywhere else you can’t see yourself.

Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Ian Olver said this group were risking their lives.

“The earlier a skin cancer is caught, the less likely it is to have spread so getting someone to help check your whole body, including your back, is vital,” Professor Olver said. “But older men can’t afford to forget sun protection and just get checked – it’s never too late to prevent further damage.”

John ‘Newk’ Newcombe said: “I’ve spent my career playing tennis in the sun and have paid the price with three skin cancers, including one that needed facial reconstruction and 64 stitches. We blokes sometimes think we’re invincible, but we’re not.”

Tony Roche has also had a brush with skin cancer. “For me the challenge is remembering to reapply sunscreen every couple of hours. I always wear a shirt with sleeves, sunscreen, a hat and try to avoid the midday sun when I’m outside coaching.”

Honorary Secretary of the Australasian College of Dermatologists, Dr Phillip Artemi, said skin cancers in this group tended to be diagnosed at a later stage.

“Men don’t notice their skin the way women do and are less likely to visit their GP,” he said. “So partners need to watch their men’s backs – figuratively and literally.”

Melanoma patient Garry Callaghan, 60, from Loftus, NSW, agrees. “I had a lump on my back that was irritating me and I could feel something rough next to it, so I asked my wife to have a look. She thought it looked abnormal and encouraged me to see a doctor.

“I was incredibly lucky to have found it in its early stages. I still have ultrasounds every three months to check it hasn’t spread, but it looks as though it was caught early enough to save my life.”

Look for a new mole, or any change in shape, colour or size of a mole or spot. Visit your doctor if you notice any changes. Visit www.cancer.org.au for more information on how to check for signs of skin cancer and how to help prevent it.



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