A lifetime spent in the sun - 42 years as a pool builder - came back to haunt Arnold Vervenne.

Now the 56-year-old is hoping his run-in with lip cancer will serve as a timely warning for others.

What started out three years ago as a white dot on the inner edge of his bottom lip soon developed into a large 16mm sore which doctors had to remove.

Two years later though it returned, more aggressive than before. In the space of about two months it grew 33mm, too large to be surgically removed without reconstructive surgery.

Mr Vervenne then underwent radiotherapy, which appears to have eradicated the cancer but left his lip scarred and sensitive.

But he is happy now not to have to drink through a straw and more importantly that the cancer was caught in time, before it could spread.

In Australia there are an estimated 900 cases of lip cancer diagnosed each year, with 20 deaths. This type of cancer is known to be more common in men than women.

Dentists have reported to the Cancer Council WA that they are seeing an increase in the number of patients visiting clinics with sun-damaged lips.

"When you get these white specks or sores on your lip, don't think that they will go away . . . you need to go in and have it looked at," Mr Vervenne warned.

He said he knew of a number of pool builders with facial cancers. He has now taken a supervisor position and spends less time in the sun, but makes sure his workers use sun protection.

SunSmart manager Kerry O'Hare said it was just as important to protect your lips as the rest of your face. Two key ways to do this were applying sunscreen and wearing a broad-brimmed hat to shade the whole face. "Outdoor workers are at increased risk of developing skin cancer because they spend most of their working day in the sun, often in peak UV times," she said. "If you multiply that across a week and across the years there is a lot of exposure to UV radiation, which is a known carcinogen."

She urged people to be aware of the time of the day and the strength of the UV radiation and take that into account when applying sun protection. The Cancer Council recommends people use protection when the UV index is above 3.

'When you get these white specks or sores on your lip, don't think they will go away.'

The West Australian

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