‘Own your tone’

By Ashleigh Fielding | posted on November 22, 2018

DENMARK has been named one of 15 melanoma ‘red zones’ outside of the WA metropolitan area with a melanoma diagnosis rate 43 per cent higher than the national average.

Cancer Council WA SunSmart manager Mark Strickland said the new Australian Cancer Atlas, an online resource, identified WA’s melanoma hotspots were along the coast.

The regional hotspots include Denmark, Bunbury, Augusta and Busselton, and he said these findings were not surprising.

“The melanoma hotspots correspond to coastal areas, where there are high concentrations of people who have access to the beach lifestyle – lots of people getting lots of sun,” Mr Strickland explained.

“So we see rates being high in Denmark, Margaret River, Falcon and the northern Perth beaches, all places where people spend time outside at the beach or living the underdressed beach lifestyle.”

Denmark is listed as 43 per cent above the national average for melanoma diagnoses on the Australian Cancer Atlas, compared to Albany’s nine per cent below, Plantagenet’s four per cent below and Kojonup’s two per cent above.

Gnowangerup is listed as eight per cent below the national average, Katanning as 13 per cent below, and the Pemberton region – which includes Walpole – is 10 per cent above.

Cancer Council WA regional education officer for the Great Southern Bruce Beamish said there is no suggestion that a person’s risk of cancer is higher because of geographical area.

He said this means moving to another area “can’t really” influence a person’s cancer risk.

“Denmark, like other melanoma hotspots in WA, has a very beach and outdoor lifestyle, so the chance of UV exposure is increased,” Mr Beamish said.

“Denmark’s cooler climate and beautiful beaches mean that people may not be aware that they are at risk…you can get burnt even if it’s a cool day.”

Denmark Medical Centre doctor Lyn Stoltze said she personally has not seen any positive melanoma diagnoses this year, but reiterated the importance of sun protection.

“A lot of people underestimate…skin damage can occur when it’s cloudy,” Dr Stoltze said.

“So you should still be wearing sunscreen and protective clothing when it’s cloudy, particularly if you work outside or have more vulnerable skin, like English skin.”

Dr Stoltze said she generally has older patients coming in for skin checks but said skin cancer was not age dependent.

She said annual skin checks were the best option for all people.

Albany hairdresser Cathryn Patmore knows about the importance of skin checks, following her melanoma diagnosis at age 12.

The now 19-year-old said she remembers not feeling shocked when she was told she had cancer, as she had seen it in her grandmother and her mother.

“The first sign was when I was 11 and I had a mole, and I thought it should be okay,” Ms Patmore said.

“When I was 12 I had it cut out, and it was cancer, but I didn’t need treatment.”

Ms Patmore said she remained vigilant about her skin from then on and at age 16 identified a “tiny freckle”.

“If I had left it, it would have become melanoma,” she said.

“I recognised it because I’d seen it before with my grandma…it didn’t look right, it was dark, blackened and a weird shape.”

Ms Patmore admitted she never used to wear a rashie at the beach because she didn’t want to look “lame”, but now promotes a very different message.

“Own your tone,” she said.

“I used to get a bit self-conscious about my pale skin, but now I embrace it.

“I’m like a moon, shiny and white, so if I want a tan, it comes out of a bottle.

“And whenever I’m at a festival, I have a little thing of sunscreen clipped to my belt.”

Ms Patmore now uses her knowledge and experience with skin cancer to help others identify unusual lesions in clients.

She said people don’t often check the back of their neck, so she takes it upon herself to have a quick glance when she cuts clients’ hair.

“I had one person last year, and I said to them, ‘you don’t need to freak, but I think you should get that mole checked’,” Ms Patmore said.

“So they did and they had it cut out because it was melanoma.”

Ms Patmore said alongside Mr Beamish, she took part in talks around town last year discussing skin protection and finding unusual lesions.

This, and Ms Patmore’s story, prompted Mr Beamish to teach lessons about skin health to hairdressing, beauty and massage students at South Regional TAFE.

“Knowing your own skin is important,” he said.

“Damage can still occur when it’s cool. It’s not about the temperature – when the UV is over three, your skin starts to suffer damage.”

Mr Beamish said the SunSmart app can help sun-goers wherever they are to identify the UV strength and when they need to don sun protection.