For ‘Don’t Fry Day’, or National Skin Cancer Prevention Day (28 May), Simone Harrison tells us more about her mission to create sun-safe school uniforms based on cutting-edge science.
Every year, more than 2,000 people in Australia die because of skin cancer, even though it is an easy to detect and entirely preventable disease.
Simone Harrison is Director of JCU's Skin Cancer Research Unit in Townsville, and she has been in skin cancer research for more than thirty years. “Skin cancer costs Australia more than any other kind of cancer to treat, not per lesion, but overall,” says Simone. “This is because so many fair people are living in a sunny situation. Of those who develop skin cancer in Northern Australia, almost forty percent develop multiple skin cancers. Many suffer with skin cancer for decades of their lives.”
The three types of skin cancer
But what is skin cancer? Most people have heard about melanoma, which is one of three types of skin cancer, and the deadliest as well. “Melanoma is basically a tumour that develops in the pigment cells of our skin, the melanocytes,” says Simone. “It is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light, and the majority of our UV exposure comes from the sun and the outdoor lifestyle that most Australians enjoy.”
When it comes to skin cancer, there is more than ‘just’ melanoma. “The other two types are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SSC)," says Simone. Even though these types of cancer are less likely to be deadly, they can impact the quality of our lives.
“The non-melanoma skin cancers, BCC and SCC, can be quite disfiguring because people often need to have to have these lesions cut out”, says Simone. “Some people develop ten or twenty of these every year from middle age onwards.”
Northern Australian school uniforms are different
Compared to Australia’s Southern regions with their long and gloomy winters, children in Northern Australia are exposed to the sun all year round. “ Here in tropical Queensland, most of us still wear summer clothing that exposes a lot of our skin, even during the winter months,” says Simone.
“Many schools in North Queensland don't have a school jumper as part of their uniform,” Simone adds, “because most people don't need to rug up for more than a week or two a year, if at all.”