Skin Cancer Risks Higher for Men and Outdoor Workers

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world with it affecting two in three Aussies by the time they turn 70.

Around 445,000 Australians are diagnosed every year and it is the most common cancer in 15-44 year-old Australians. In 2010, 11,405 people were diagnosed with melanoma – the most dangerous type of skin cancer – and 2087 people died from skin cancer in 2011.

Men are at much greater risk than women, partly because they may spend more time outdoors and are less likely to have their skin checked. Outdoor workers are exposed to around five to 10 times more of the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays – the cause of between 95 to 99 per cent of skin cancers as well as eye diseases such as cataracts.

Given you live in sun-drenched Australia, you have a few options:  ignore the dangers and wait for the bombshell, move to England, or know about and reduce your risks.

Non Melanoma:

These are the most common type of skin cancers and while not usually life threatening they still  caused 543 deaths in 2011 and generally occur twice as much in men than women.They consist of two main types, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma with the sun causing around 99 per cent of these skin cancers. Resultantly, around 34,000 outdoor workers are diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancers every year due to their sun exposure on the job.


Melanoma is the most dangerous and aggressive form of skin cancer that can grow quickly over a matter of weeks and if left untreated spread to other parts of the body and be fatal.

Early detection is critical. Once again sun and UV exposure is the culprit causing 95 per cent of melanomas, meaning outdoor workers are again at a much greater risk and may explain why prevalence in men is far greater than women. Around 200 melanoma cases each year are attributable to occupational UV exposure. Your risk increases further if you have freckles or fair skin, burn easily, have light or red hair, light eye colour, a depressed immune system or a family or personal history of melanoma.

Get it early:

If melanoma is caught and treated early the likelihood of being alive in five years is 99 per cent. This drops to 15 per cent if it is discovered after the disease is widespread.Often melanoma has no physical symptoms meaning you must get to know your skin by regularly checking your entire body (have someone else check your back) and having any questionable spots examined professionally.

Skin cancers can be indicated by crusty or non-healing sores, small red, pale or pearly lumps, new spots and freckles, or any moles changing in colour or shape. Don’t forget to check your lips, ears and scalp – areas which catch plenty of sun.

Use the ABCD of melanoma detection: look for Asymmetry in the spot, an irregular Border, multiple colours or a growing Diameter. Regular attendance of a skin cancer clinic for professional examination is highly recommended to increase the likelihood of early detection however this should not replace ongoing self-examination.

Protection on the job:
For those who work outdoors and face significantly higher risks of skin cancer their workplaces are required by law to provide a duty of care including sun protection measures. The Cancer Council recommends a sun protection policy which outlines steps for reducing worker’s sun exposure such as providing shaded areas.

Employees must also take responsibility. The key ways to mitigate risks of skin cancer include but are not limited to:

  • Always wear a high factor “broad spectrum” sunscreen that is water and sweat resistant.
  • Shade your face, neck and ears with a full brimmed hat and if you are wearing a hardhat seek shelter with an attachable brim and neck flap like the ProChoice Shade Halo.
  • Protect your eyes with certified safety sunglasses offering both UV and impact protection – there’s not much point protecting your eyes from UV rays only to lose one to a workplace accident.
  • Wear closely woven yet lightweight clothing with ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) 50+ to block UV rays while keeping you cool.
  • Use UV-blocking lip balm. Men are up to 13 times more likely to get lip cancer than women.
  • If possible stay out of the sun during the middle of the day, when the sun is strongest.

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