Figures are often given about the number of skin cancers treated each year. The volume of treatments exceeds 750,000 in Australia, and the number of death is tragically high at approximately 2,000 people per year.
However these numbers are sometimes difficult to relate to our own lives.
Yet what if you were told that because of skin cancer treatments you couldn’t work for a few months? Too often we focus on the skin cancers that can be removed through minor surgery and ignore those that involve major surgery, chemotherapy or even the potential loss of life. These can put a huge financial strain on your family, particularly if you are the main income earner and you are unable to work during the treatment period, or are burdened with large out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Even if we don’t consider the more extreme treatments for skin cancer and just focus on removal of the cancer by minor surgery, there is a physical toll of this treatment, which in many cases is scarring. Cancers such as basal cell carcinomas (BCC) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) are often treated through removal of the cancer by excision, sometimes at a local GP’s office. Unfortunately these cancers commonly occur on the face, nose, lip, ears and neck, all of which are areas that are exposed to other people in our day to day lives. The removal of these cancers can often leave obvious scars that are difficult to disguise. The sad fact is that for people who have skin cancer removed, there is a high risk that they will bear the scar of this experience in a prominent place for the rest of their lives.
Emotionally skin cancer treatments can be a difficult challenge. For those confronted with the message that they have melanoma, there is the distress and challenge of facing a cancer that could be life threatening, or require serious treatment such as major surgery and chemotherapy. Emotionally one of the hardest battles with cancer is the uncertainty. Not knowing if the treatment will work or not, not knowing if you will survive, or knowing that even if you beat it this time, it may return. For those who have had to have a larger section removed with the cancer, such as part of their lip or nose, the challenge can be looking in the mirror and not recognising the person who looks back.
The financial, physical and emotional cost of skin cancer is too high when you think that this cancer is almost entirely preventable. Yet we don’t think about this. We are complacent in protecting our skin and we just hope that it won’t happen to us. 1 in 2 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70. It does not have to be you.