The Importance Of Sun Protection In The Prevention Of Skin Cancer

Interview with Dr Gavin Sandercoe

Trish: We’re here today with Dr Gavin Sandercoe who’s a Plastic Surgeon from Bella Vista and we’re here in beautiful Byron Bay for the school holidays and we’re going to talk about the importance of sun protection in the prevention of skin cancer.
So thank you so much for taking the time today.

Dr Sandercoe: Not a problem.

Trish: Excellent! So can you tell us like, why it’s so important to start young and tell us a bit about why we should look after our skin and protect from the sun.

Dr Sandercoe: Ok, so generally speaking I’ve got a cohort of patients that are you know, 30s and 40s years and they’re asking me what can they do for their skin. And probably, the most important things you can do for your skin are: don’t smoke and apply sunscreen. And you start with the sunscreen early. As a third but much smaller, less important point – always keep hydrated. Your skin ages just like every other organ in your body and it’s really, really important to look after it. The things that are going to make your skin look terrible when you’re 30, and 40, and 50 and older, is chronic dehydration and sun damage. The damage that you can do to your skin for not looking after it with sun protection will not only have an impact on how your skin looks and feels, but it will also have an impact on your risk of skin cancer. Accumulative sun exposure, so those little tans that you get all the way through your life; they’re linked to your risk of Basal cell carcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma. The burns that you get are much more related to your risk of having melanoma. Anyone that knows anything about melanoma knows it’s a scary disease – it’s a killer. The other 2.. are lesser. You know, they’ll disfigure you and by the time you get around to getting things sorted out you might have couple of scars. But Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin and Basal cell carcinoma are pretty unlikely to kill you.

The most important thing to look at with your sunscreen is start with looking at your SPF. So SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and that’s a number that’s put onto the sunscreen and it’s related to how well that sunscreen blocks out the ultraviolet radiation. Now initially, SPF was related to the amount of UVB that it blocks out but UVA, which is a closely related ultraviolet wavelength, will also damage your skin. And it’s not really measured in sun protection factor ratings. The most important thing to make sure that you look for, to make sure you are getting a good coverage for your UVA, is to just check that it says “broad spectrum”. The next thing to look at is how water resistant it is; because a lot us are putting on the sunscreen and going down to the beach and it’s gonna get worn off. So anything that says water resistant or those sorts of things generally has got about a 4 hour shelf life. So if you look at a sunscreen that says broad spectrum SPF 50+ and water resistant – what that tells you is; it’s gonna block your UVA and your UVB rays. It’s been tested at 4 hours after it’s been applied to the skin and been immersed in water. And an SPF 50+ means that it’s got a sun protection factor 60 which means the equivalent ultraviolet dose in 1 minute, takes 60 minutes to actually make it through to your skin. And they’re probably the most important things that you can do. Once your skin has got some signs of ageing, really your options are all about trying to thicken up the deeper layers of skin. And that’s all related to vitamin A and any other mechanism or tool that you can use. So the other tools around are laser and needling and all those sorts of things. But prevention, like a lot of things, is always better than the cure.

Trish: So even on dark skins like…

Dr Sandercoe: Yeah.

Trish: Like do I need it, I’m quite dark?

Dr Sandercoe: Yes, you do. So, the important message that the Cancer Council gets out there is; the darker your skin is, the more innate protection that you have from the sun and the less likely you are to burn; you still do need that sunscreen on to stop that damage that you’re going to get from the sun exposure. So, yes you’re more likely to get Melanoma than a white boy like me but you’re still going to get Basal cell carcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma and have all those age and sun related changes to your skin if you don’t put sunscreen on regularly.

Trish: Ok. So even if you’re at the beach, and you’re putting sunscreen on, do you have to put sunscreen on if you are under a shade, say for example?

Dr Sandercoe: Absolutely you do because you get reflected sun off the ocean and off the sand. So that’s why again, the Cancer Council has got their sun smart campaign which is all about sunscreen; broad brimmed hat – so caps, they’re great but you know, there’s no protection for your ears. And look, from a plastic surgeon’s point of view once you’ve got a cancer on your ears they’re a bit more messy to sort of reconstruct and make look normal again. So sunscreen, hat, find shade, put on some protective clothing and look nowadays we’ve got great, you know, rash vests and things like that which are all very highly sun resistant. And lastly, sunglasses. You know, sunglasses – not only are they fashionable and cool and all that sort of stuff but they’re gonna protect your eyes from sun damage. Again, the thing that worries me as a doctor is you can get Melanoma of your retina. And again that’s something that is often picked up late and by the time it’s picked up it’s often a disaster.

Trish: Wow, so it’s really important to look after your skin especially in the sun. So don’t dehydrate, don’t smoke, wear your sunblock, wear a hat and slip, slop, slap basically.

Dr Sandercoe: Yeah pretty much.

Trish: OK, awesome, so thank you so much for taking time to talk to us today.

Dr Sandercoe: Not a problem.

Trish: Awesome, thank you.