Celebrities & Skin Cancer

Celebrities & Skin Cancer

There are two main types of skin cancer, melanoma & non-melanoma skin cancer. Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common type of skin cancer. However, as they are not required to be reported to cancer registries the actual incidence & mortality statistics available are best estimates & not always up to date. The most common non-melanoma skin cancer types are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) & squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), which together account for about 90% of skin cancers. Melanomas make up about 4% of all diagnosed skin cancer cases but account for most skin cancer deaths.

Skin cancer is one of the most prevalent cancers diagnosed around the world each year. In the US it is the most common cancer diagnosed, more than breast, prostate, lung & colon cancers combined. In the UK it is one of the fastest growing malignancies, especially in the 18 to 35 age group. If caught early, however, skin cancer is one of the most treatable cancers, with survival rates at about 90%.

The most important fact to remember for skin cancers is how preventable they are. The best treatment is prevention. In the UK alone 86% of skin cancer cases could have been prevented with better skin protection from UV rays. You should avoid direct sun exposure when it is at its strongest & most dangerous, between 11 AM & 3 PM. It is important when you are exposed to the sun to protect your skin with light, long sleeve clothing & hats. Make sure any exposed skin has sunscreen applied, since daily use of an SFP 15 or higher sunscreen can reduce the risk of melanoma by 50%. Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun & reapplied every two hours & immediately after swimming & towel drying.

With such a high prevalence, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many celebrities have suffered from skin cancer. From actors like Ewan McGregor, to musicians like Michael Jackson, reality stars like Khloe Kardashian, to athletes like Troy Aikman & even politicians, the disease, as all cancers, is indiscriminate of wealth & status & can strike anyone. Many celebrities who have survived skin cancer have chosen to be open & honest about their experiences in order to inform others of the risks & to encourage people to get checked early & often.

Hugh Jackman

Whether you know him as tough antihero Wolverine from the X-Men films, or circus impresario P.T. Barnum in The Greatest Showman, Hugh Jackman is one of the most beloved & recognisable actors in Hollywood. He is also one of the most public & open celebrities to talk about skin cancer & his own struggles with BCC. In 2017, he posted a photo to his personal Instagram account of himself with a bandage on his nose with the caption “Another basal cell carcinoma. Thanks to frequent body checks and amazing doctors, all is well. Looks worse with the dressing on than off. I swear! #wearsunscreen”. The Australian actor has had at least six BCCs removed from his nose since 2013 & says he now gets regular check-ups every three months. He often uses his social media to remind his fans of the importance of proper sun protection & to get regular skin exams.

Australia has the highest instance rate of skin cancer in the world. However, their long-running advert campaign “Slip, Slop, Slap” is credited with the reason the country is the first in the world to show a reduction in skin cancer cases in the under 45 age group.

Diane Keaton

The Academy Award-winning actress was diagnosed with BCC when she was just 21 & later had an SCC removed from her face. She has spoken openly about both her experience with skin cancer & her family history with the disease, as both her father & brother have had BCCs removed. She is now a big advocate for sun protection & wearing sunscreen. There is a small hereditary component to skin cancers. About 1% of people diagnosed with skin cancer have a family member with a history of the disease. Having a first-degree relative diagnosed with skin cancer increases the risk of developing the disease by 50%.

Vinnie Jones

Former footballer turned Hollywood hard man, Vinnie Jones, said cancer was his “toughest & scariest opponent yet” when he revealed he was receiving treatment for melanoma in 2013. He noticed a small blemish under his eye which a check-up revealed was melanoma. He had it removed & later had another in the same area & one on the back of his head removed. Jones blamed the cancer on his outdoor lifestyle, the years of playing football outside & his subsequent move to Los Angeles, without taking the sun into consideration. After he was diagnosed, he began work with the Melanoma Research Foundation & urged people, especially athletes, to be more aware of sun exposure, to always wear sun protection & to get their skin regularly checked.

His wife of 25 years, Tanya Jones, was also diagnosed with melanoma at around the same time. At age 21, Tanya underwent an emergency heart transplant. People with compromised immune systems, such as people with AIDS or people on anti-rejection medication following an organ transplant, are at a higher risk of any number of cancers, including skin cancers. Tanya had already been treated twice for cervical cancer.

Bob Marley

On May 11, 1981, legendary reggae artist Bob Marley passed away from a combination of melanoma & brain cancer. In 1977, a dark spot appeared under the Jamaican musician’s toenail, but he attributed it to a recent soccer injury. When he had it checked by a doctor, he was diagnosed with a rare form of skin cancer called acral lentiginous melanoma. He ignored his doctor’s recommendation that the toe be removed due to his spiritual beliefs & fear of being operated on. The cancer eventually spread throughout his body and he died when he was only 36 years old.

Acral lentiginous melanoma develops on hairless skin, like under nails, on the soles of the feet or the palms of the hands. While most skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning machines, this rare type of melanoma is more likely caused by genetic factors. While acral lentiginous melanoma is a rare form of melanoma, it is the most common form of melanoma in dark skinned people. The death rate from this kind of melanoma is higher than for other types because it can be so hard to detect so it is usually not treated early enough.

US Politicians

The 2008 Republican nominee for President & Senator from Arizona John McCain was diagnosed with melanoma on his left arm in 1993. Seven US President are believed to have suffered from some form of skin cancer, from the first President George Washington to both Presidents George Bush Senior & Junior.

President Ronald Reagan was diagnosed with skin cancer while he was still in office & had a cancer removed from his nose in 1987. His daughter Maureen Reagan also suffered from skin cancer & actually died of the disease at age 60. On average, someone who dies of skin cancer typically loses at least 20 years of their life.

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