To reduce melanoma and skin cancer risk, learn from the Aussies (and a seagull)

May 2, 2013 | by Tami Dennis

Somewhere along the way, May – a harbinger of carefree summer fun – got serious. It’s now known as Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month. But as fun-sapping as that name might seem, there does appear to be a way to combine an exuberant embrace of the sun with skin protection. The Aussies have already proved it.

Don't stop with a drop. Go for a dollop. During May, also known as Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, it pays to learn how to use sunscreen properly. Summer is just around the corner. Don't stop with a drop. Go for a dollop. During May, also known as Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month, it pays to learn how to use sunscreen properly. Summer is just around the corner.

The words Slip! Slop! Slap! are credited with awakening Australians to the need to protect their skin from the sun. That's what anyone would call a breakthrough. Used as a slogan, the words were the focal point “one of the most successful health campaigns in Australia’s history.”

Of course, the Australian campaign featured Sid the seagull, an animated bird wearing board shirts.

“Slip, Slop, Slap!,” Sid sang, in a charming, and apparently persuasive, Aussie accent. “It sounds like a breeze when you say it like that ... Slip, Slop, Slap! Slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat. Slip, Slop, Slap!”

There’s more, but reading the lyrics doesn’t do the bird justice. See? Fun.

In the States, the American Cancer Society tossed the seagull and added the word “wrap,” as in Slip! Slop! Slap! and Wrap. (“Wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and sensitive skin around them.”) Not as catchy as Sid's ditty, perhaps, but eye protection is undeniably important.

City of Hope surgical oncologist Vijay Trisal, M.D., who helps formulate melanoma treatment guidelines both nationally and internationally, sums up current advice this way: Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide!

"Slip on a shirt Slop on sunscreen Slap on a broad-brimmed hat Seek shade Slide on a pair of sun glasses"

Obviously he wants to leave no chances when it comes to melanoma. And you'll note an increase in the number of instructions as we move forward. But then, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, with 76,690 melanoma diagnoses each year, and 9,480 deaths.

As for Trisal, he studies genes that might help physicians identify and treat melanoma, so his seriousness is both understandable and welcome.

Here, let’s point out here that melanoma is but one type of skin cancer. There’s also basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and rare skin cancers such as Merkel cell carcinoma, clear cell carcinomas and sebaceous carcinomas, each with their own treatment options.

The primary way to reduce skin cancer risk is, of course, avoid excessive exposure to UV rays. Genetics play a role too, but not much can be done about that factor.

Trisal offers hope to those who spent too many years without slipping or slopping, much less slapping, pointing out that doctors now have new weapons against metastatic melanoma. The medications Zelboraf, or vemurafenib, and ipilimumab are particular bright spots, he says. Both drugs interfere with the growth and spread of cancer cells.

Still, skin cancer risk is a heavy burden for May to bear, especially considering Americans' sometimes reluctant commitment to sun protection. Maybe Sid's available.

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Visit our website for more information on skin cancer and melanoma.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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