A good chunk of Aussie sports occur in the great outdoors. So are you protecting your skin? And do you really know if you are at risk of skin cancer and what it can look like? Melanoma is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in people aged 15–29, and athletes aren’t excluded, so here are the facts you need to know about skin cancer, plain and simple…

So what exactly is skin cancer and who is at risk?

According to Cancer Council NSW: ‘Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the skin. The three main types of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma – begin in particular cells of the epidermis, which is the top, outer layer of the skin.’

Anyone can get skin cancer, and spending a lot of time outdoors in the sun can increase the risk. Here are some of the sports stars who have, or have been known to have, skin cancer.

  • Hawthorn AFL star Jarryd Roughead – melanoma
  • Former Australian cricket captain Michael Clarke – non-melanoma skin cancers
  • Tennis great John Newcombe – basal cell carcinoma
  • Tennis great Tony Roche – non-melanoma skin cancer
  • Cricket commentator Richie Benaud – basal cell carcinoma
  • Pro-surfer Stuart Entwistle – melanoma
  • Olympic 400m freestyle champion Mack Horton – suspicious changing mole. A fan emailed Mack’s team’s doctors encouraging the swimmer to have the mole examined after noticing it had changed shape in photographs. ‘They [doctors] just looked at it and said, “Let’s take it out now,”‘ Horton told the Herald Sun.
Mack Horton

‘Shout out to the person that emailed the swim team doctor and told me to get my mole checked out. Good call. Very good call. 🙌🏼👌🏼’ said Mack Horton on Instagram in October 2016.

The facts you need to know…

1. While some people have moles at birth, they usually begin to appear during childhood and keep developing through to your forties, when they start to slowly disappear again. Moles on their own are harmless, but about 25% of melanomas occur in an existing mole.

2. Your colouring makes a difference. Red or blond(e) hair, light-coloured eyes, fair skin, sun sensitive skin (particularly Fitzpatrick type I skin) and a propensity to freckle are genetic risk factors for developing melanoma and keratinocytic skin cancers when combined with exposure to the sun.

3. It’s never too late to start wearing sunscreen and clothes that protect you from the sun, as you can definitely prevent further skin damage.

4. Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. Although it’s not as common as other skin cancers, melanoma is the most serious because it is more likely to spread to other parts of the body such as the lungs, liver, brain and bones.

5. In 2016, an estimated 13,280 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in Australia, and 1770 people will die from this disease.

6. Within Australia, 95% of melanomas are attributable to overexposure to UV radiation.

7. A new US study published in JAMA Dermatology found that most people with melanoma do not have very many moles. Surprisingly, 66% of those in the study had 0–20 moles – a number doctors think is fairly small. Also, 73% did not have unusual moles, often considered to increase the risk of skin cancer. Therefore, just because you don’t have moles, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be checked for skin cancer.

8. Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia. More than 12,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year, with the highest incidence in people over the age of 40, especially men.

9. A melanoma can look like a mole while in its early stage.

10. Has anyone in your family had a melanoma? Familial melanoma represents 5% to 10% of cases.


Basal cell carcinoma. Note that colour and size can vary.


Squamous cell carcinoma. Note that colour and size can vary.

11. High sun exposure during the first 10 years of life more than doubles your risk of melanoma, while intense, intermittent sun exposure (sunburns and time sunbathing) during each decade up to the age of 29 increases risk of melanoma by more than one and a half times.

12. Each year it is estimated that about 200 melanomas and 34,000 other skin cancer types are caused by occupational exposures in Australia.

13. ‘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,’ advises Cancer Council Australia CEO Professor Ian Olver.

14. It is better to have your skin checked during winter when your skin isn’t tanned, as the contrast between your skin and any abnormalities will be more obvious. Although, don’t let this be an excuse to not have your skin checked at other times of the year.

15. You should self-check your skin on a regular basis, and have professional skin checks at least once a year.

16. Sun bed use increases the risk of melanoma by 20%, with an increase of 59% if used before 35 years of age.

17. A National Sun Protection Survey found only 24 per cent of men aged 45-69 use sunscreen, yet the risk of dying of melanoma is double for men compared to women of the same age.

18. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer by the age of 70.

19. The number of treatments for basal and squamous cell carcinomas is more than five times the incidence of all other cancers combined. Medicare records show there were 974,767 treatments for squamous and basal cell carcinoma skin cancers in 2015. Do the math and that is more than 2500 skin cancer treatments every single day!

20. Diagnosis of a melanoma with the naked eye has an accuracy rate of only 60%. Therefore, dermatoscopy, also known as dermoscopy (examination using a hand-held microscope) is used in to improve the accuracy. It has an accuracy of 89% and a sensitivity of 82.6% for detecting melanocytic lesions, and a sensitivity of 98.6% for basal cell carcinoma and 86.5% for squamous cell carcinoma.

21. You can use the ‘ABCDE’ method to see if a mole is suspicious and should be checked further by an expert.

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Colour: variegated (including a surrounding coloured halo)
  • Diameter is greater than 6mm
  • Evolving – you’ve noticed the mole is changing shape


Have you had any suspicious moles/marks on your skin? Do you religiously cover your skin in sunscreen, hats and clothing when outdoors or do you cop a sunburn every now and again? Let us know in the comments section below.

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