Understanding sun protection
Most melanomas are caused by exposure to the sun’s UV radiation. After a diagnosis of melanoma, it is especially important to check your skin regularly and follow SunSmart behaviour.
Do not use solariums. Also known as tanning beds or sun lamps, solariums give off artificial UV radiation and are banned for commercial use in Australia.
Daily sun protection times
The UV Index shows the intensity of the sun's UV radiation using a scale that begins at 0 and has no upper limit. An index of 3 or above indicates that UV levels are high enough to damage skin, so sun protection is recommended.
The sun protection times vary according to your location and will change throughout the year.
In general, during summer in Australia, all states experience long periods during the day when the UV Index is 3 or above. In late autumn and winter in southern Australia, the UV Index may fall below 3 and sun protection is not necessary.
Check the SunSmart UV alert
Sun exposure and vitamin D
UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer, but it is also the best source of vitamin D, which is needed to develop and maintain healthy bones. The amount of sunlight you need for vitamin D depends on several factors, including the UV level, your skin type and your lifestyle.
For most people, just 15–20 minutes of incidental sun exposure, such as walking from the office to get lunch or hanging out the washing, is enough to produce the required vitamin D level. Getting more sun than recommended does not increase your vitamin D levels, but it does increase your skin cancer risk.
After a melanoma diagnosis, if you are concerned about vitamin D deficiency talk to your doctor.
Your guide to best cancer care
A lot can happen in a hurry when you’re diagnosed with cancer. The guide to best cancer care for melanoma can help you make sense of what should happen. It will help you with what questions to ask your health professionals to make sure you receive the best care at every step.
Read the guide
After treatment ends, you will need regular skin checks to confirm that the melanoma hasn't come back or spread. The follow-up plan will vary depending on the stage, and more frequent visits are recommended for people with advanced melanoma.
People who had a stage I melanoma need to see their doctor for yearly skin checks, while people with stage II melanoma will need follow-up every 6 months for several years. People with stage III melanoma will be monitored every 3 months for two years.
In the vast majority of cases, early melanoma will not come back (recur) after treatment. The risk of the melanoma coming back after treatment is higher for people with regional melanoma.
Recurrence can occur at the site where the melanoma was removed (locally), in the lymph nodes, or further away in other body sites, like the lung, brain or liver. People who have had one melanoma have about five times the risk of developing a new melanoma compared with the average person their age.
It is important to be familiar with your skin, examine it for changes, and visit your doctor for regular check-ups.
If the cancer returns, your doctor will discuss the treatment options with you. These will depend on where the cancer has recurred, as well as the stage and grade of the cancer.
Asking your doctor questions will help you make an informed choice about your treatment and care. You may want to include some of the questions below in your own list:
- What type of melanoma do I have? How thick is it?
- Has the melanoma spread? How fast is it growing?
- Did the biopsy remove all of the melanoma?
- Are the latest tests and treatments for melanoma available in this hospital?
- Can you explain the results of the tests to me?
- Are there clinical guidelines for this type of cancer?
- What treatment do you recommend? What is the aim of the treatment?
- How long will treatment take? Will I have to stay in hospital?
- How much will treatment cost? Can the cost be reduced if I can’t afford it?
- How will I know if the treatment is working?
- Are there any clinical trials or research studies I could join?
- What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? How can these be managed?
- Will I have a lot of pain? If I do, what will be done about this?
- Will there be any scarring after the melanoma is removed?
- What are the chances I will get lymphoedema after treatment?
- How often will I need to get my skin checked after treatment? Who should I go to for my skin checks?
- How can I protect myself from the sun and get enough vitamin D?
- If the melanoma returns, how will I know? What treatments could I have?
- Are there any local support groups for people with melanoma?
Download our Understanding Melanoma booklet to learn more.Download now
Expert content reviewers:
A/Prof Robyn Saw, Surgical Oncologist, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney and Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Craig Brewer, Consumer; Prof Bryan Burmeister, Radiation Oncologist, GenesisCare Fraser Coast and Hervey Bay Hospital, QLD; Tamara Dawson, Consumer, Melanoma & Skin Cancer Advocacy Network; Prof Georgina Long, Co-Medical Director, Melanoma Institute Australia, and Chair, Melanoma Medical Oncology and Translational Research, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney and Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; A/Prof Alexander Menzies, Medical Oncologist, Melanoma Institute Australia, The University of Sydney, Royal North Shore and Mater Hospitals, NSW; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Paige Preston, Chair, Cancer Council’s National Skin Cancer Committee, Cancer Council Australia; Prof H Peter Soyer, Chair in Dermatology and Director, Dermatology Research Centre, The University of Queensland Diamantina Institute, and Director, Dermatology Department, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Julie Teraci, Clinical Nurse Consultant and Coordinator, WA Kirkbride Melanoma Advisory Service, WA.
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The information on this webpage was adapted from Understanding Melanoma - A guide for people with cancer, their families and friends (2021 edition). This webpage was last updated in July 2021.