In a recent Instagram post, Wolverine actor Hugh Jackman opened up about his treatment for basal cell carcinoma, the most common type of skin cancer. He posted a photo with his post-op bandage covering his nose and captioned it, “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!” He signed off by reminding his followers to wear sunscreen.
This isn’t the first time the 48-year-old Australian has gone under the knife to remove a skin cancer. He’s shared posts about other basal cell carcinomas that he’s had removed before, starting in 2013. In another Instagram post last year, he describes basal cell carcinoma as the “the mildest form of cancer, but serious, nonetheless.”
He’s spot-on about that.
Basal cell carcinoma (or BCC) is the most commonly occurring cancer in the U.S., with more than 4 million cases diagnosed each year. It’s caused by long-term or intense sun exposure (think sunburns) and usually occurs in areas that are exposed to the sun, like your face, ears, nose, neck, shoulders, or back.
While anyone who spends time in the sun can develop this type of cancer, fair-skinned and light-haired people may be more susceptible to it. Plus, Jackman’s upbringing in Australia may have been a reason. As he told People magazine in 2016, “Being an Australian it’s a very common thing. I never wore sunscreen growing up so I was a prime candidate for it.” In fact, the occurrence of skin cancer in Australia is one of the highest in the world — 2 to 3 times the rate in the U.S. About 2 in 3 Australians will receive a skin cancer diagnosis by the time they’re 70.
The good news: This type of skin cancer almost never spreads to other parts of the body, and it’s usually not life-threatening. “However, you don’t want to ignore it,” says Michael Smith, MD, WebMD’s chief medical editor. “Left untreated, they will continue to grow and can become quite disfiguring. That also makes treatment much more difficult, requiring more extensive surgery to remove.”
What’s more: Basal cells tend to occur in areas where surgery is more difficult, such as the nose, ears, or other parts of your face, Smith adds.
To lower your chances of having it, Smith suggests staying out of the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. In addition, wear sunscreen every day, even on cloudy days, he says. “When you are in the sun, dress smart with a broad-brimmed hat and cover up as much as possible with long sleeves.”