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Cigarettes and skin cancer: a not-so-sunny alliance

Thursday 25 July, 2013 by Patrick Gallus

Stroke, heart disease, emphysema, the leading cause of preventable cancer – and just when you thought there couldn't possibly be another reason to give up smoking, along comes this.

Smoking increases your risk of skin cancer.

That's what a new study from the American Medical Association shows.

We've known for some time that smoking is bad for your skin: it's linked to skin disease and ‘early ageing', reducing blood flow and possibly damaging tissues that help keep skin looking young. Now, according to the study released last month, smoking has now been found to increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

SCC is the second most common form of skin cancer, accounting for about 30 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancers. Over 130,000 cases are recorded in Australia each year, making it one of the most common forms of cancer overall. It is not as deadly as melanoma, but can become dangerous if left untreated. Each time skin is exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, changes take place in the structure and function of our skin cells. Over time, the skin can become permanently damaged and the damage will worsen with each exposure.

This latest finding linking smoking with an increased risk of developing SCC was based on an analysis of the combined data of six smaller studies. As with many other smoking-related health concerns, the study suggests that the magnitude of the association was stronger among current smokers while the effect was weaker among former smokers.

These new findings offer just another great reason for smokers to quit. But this study serves as more than another quitting incentive: it is a pertinent reminder for smokers, and the wider population, to be SunSmart and be extra vigilant around any changes to your skin. It's never too late to protect yourself whether you are 6, 16 or 60.

Check the sun protection times each morning at sunsmart.com.au or on your smartphone using the free SunSmart app and make sure that you're prepared for the day ahead. If you notice anything unusual, including any change in shape, colour or size of a spot, or the development of
a spot, visit your doctor. 

It's still early days – I wouldn't expect to see gory photos of skin cancers adorning cigarette packs any time too soon – and more investigation is likely to follow. But the finding is certainly an interesting addition to the (already daunting) list of adverse health impacts for which smoking is responsible.

If you or someone you know could use help or advice to quit smoking, visit quit.org.au or give the Quitline a call on 13 7848.

For more information on skin protection, UV and skin cancer, visit sunsmart.com.au.

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