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Skin cancer

After treating skin cancer (non-melanoma)

Will I get other skin cancers?

After treatment, you will need regular check-ups to confirm the cancer hasn't come back. People who have had skin cancer are also at higher risk of developing more skin cancers. This is because sun damage builds up over time and cannot be reversed.

It’s important to prevent further damage to your skin. Follow the steps below to make sun protection a part of your lifestyle, and visit your doctor for yearly full-body skin checks.

Cancer care pathways

For an overview of what to expect during all stages of your cancer care, read or download the What To Expect guide for basal and squamous cell carcinoma (also available in Arabic, Chinese, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Tagalog and Vietnamese – see details on the site). The What To Expect guide is a short guide to what is recommended for the best cancer care across Australia, from diagnosis to treatment and beyond.

Sun exposure and vitamin D

UV radiation from the sun causes skin cancer, but it is also the best natural source of vitamin D, which is needed to develop and maintain strong and 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. UV levels vary across Australia, so the time you need to spend in the sun will be determined by your location, the season and time of day, cloud coverage and the environment. (For more information on the UV Index, see below.)

The body can only absorb a limited amount of vitamin D at a time. Getting more sun than recommended does not increase your vitamin D levels, but it does increase your skin cancer risk. 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 levels.

After a diagnosis of skin cancer, talk to your doctor about the best ways to maintain vitamin D while reducing your risk of further skin cancers.

The UV Index and 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 and sun protection is recommended.

The daily sun protection times tell you the times of day the UV Index levels are forecast to be 3 or higher. 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.

You can check the sun protection times on the weather page of Australian daily newspapers, the Bureau of Meteorology website at bom.gov.au or by downloading the free SunSmart app for iPhone, iPad and Android devices.

"After having a BCC cut out, I was more conscious of using sunscreen and wearing a hat. I found using the SunSmart app a good way to know when to avoid being outside." – Pete

Protecting your skin from the sun

When UV levels are 3 or above, use a combination of measures to protect your skin.

Slip on clothing

Wear clothing that covers your shoulders, neck, arms, legs and body. Choose closely woven fabric or fabric with a high ultraviolet protection factor rating.

Slop on sunscreen

Use an SPF 30+ or higher broad-spectrum sunscreen. Use a waterresistant product for sports and swimming. Apply a generous amount of sunscreen 20 minutes before going out and reapply every two hours, or after swimming or any activity that causes you to sweat or rub it off.

Slap on a hat

Wear a broad-brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears. Adult hats should have at least a 7.5 cm brim. Hats for children aged under 8 years should have at least a 5 cm brim, and hats for children aged 8–12 should have at least a 6 cm brim.

Avoid sun lamps and solariums

Do not use sun lamps, solariums or tanning beds (banned for commercial use), which give off UV radiation.

Seek shade

Use shade from trees, umbrellas, buildings or any type of canopy. UV radiation is reflective and bounces off surfaces, such as concrete, water, sand and snow. If you can see the sky, even if the direct sun is blocked, the shade will not completely protect you from UV.

Check sun protection times every day

Use the SunSmart UV Alert to check daily sun protection times in your local area. It is available as a free SunSmart app, online ( sunsmart.com.au or bom.gov.au/uv), in the weather section of daily newspapers, or as a free website widget.

Protect children

Use a combination of sun protection measures to protect babies and children from direct sunlight. Applying sunscreen on babies under 6 months is not recommended.

Slide on sunglasses

Protect your eyes with sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard AS1067. Wraparound styles are best. Sunglasses should be worn all year round.

Cosmetic care

Skin cancer treatments such as surgery, curettage and cautery, and cryotherapy often leave scars. In most cases, your doctor will do everything they can to make the scar less noticeable. Most scars will fade with time.

You may worry about how the scar looks, especially if it's on your face. Various cosmetics are available to help conceal scarring. Your hairstyle or clothing might also cover the scar. You may want to talk to a counsellor, friend or family member about how you are feeling after any changes to your appearance.

Look Good Feel Better

Look Good Feel Better is a national program that helps people manage the appearance-related effects of cancer treatment. Workshops are run for men, women and teenagers. For information about services in your area, visit lgfb.org.au or call 1800 650 960.

Practical and financial help

Skin cancer may cause practical and financial difficulties, particularly for people who have to travel for treatment.

Financial assistance – through benefits, pensions and programs – may help pay for prescription medicines and transport costs to medical appointments. These services may be different in each state and territory. For information about services in your local area and whether you are eligible to receive them, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 or, if you are treated in hospital, ask the social worker.

Expert content reviewers:

Dr Judy Cole, Consultant Dermatologist, St John of God Dermatology, WA; Irena Brozek, Research and Development Officer, Cancer Council NSW; Shannon Jones, SunSmart Health Professionals Coordinator, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; David Lemon, Consumer; Dr Margaret Oziemski, Dermatologist, QLD; Megan Trewhella, Nurse Coordinator, Melanoma and Skin Service, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Chelsey Upston, 13 11 20 Clinical Nurse Specialist, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC.

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