We have a number of GPs specialising in skin at Mullumbimby Comprehensive Health Centre, one of them is Dr Dunstan Thompson, who has put together this useful information about how to check and monitor yourself for signs of skin cancer.
Who’s at risk of skin cancer?
A staggering two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, which is why it’s so important that we learn about skin cancer and sun protection. The major cause of skin cancer is overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The more exposure you have over your lifetime, the greater your risk of cancer.
Working outdoors will increase your skin cancer risk, as will a history of severe sunburns and tanning. Having a history of skin cancer in your family, a large number of moles, fair skin or red hair may also make you more susceptible to developing skin cancer.
Most people diagnosed with skin cancer are over the age of 45, with twice as many men in this age group dying from the disease than women the same age. However, melanoma is also by far the most common cancer diagnosed among 15-29 year olds. No one is immune.
What’s the best way to check for skin cancer?
Skin cancer can develop very quickly, so it’s important not to rely on an annual skin check or other screening program as your detection method. Instead, regularly check your skin, including those areas you rarely expose to the sun. Make sure you have good lighting and ask someone (or use mirrors) to check those areas of your skin that you can’t see. By getting to know what looks normal for you, you’ll quickly notice if a spot changes or a new spot appears.
What am I looking for?
Almost all of us have freckles, moles and skin blemishes of some sort. But signs these spots have turned cancerous include changes in shape, colour or size. Skin cancers can also appear as a new spot.
There are three main types of skin cancer, each with their own particular signs:
- Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common and least dangerous form. It appears as a lump or a dry, scaly area; is red, pale or pearly in colour; and can ulcerate as it grows or appear as a sore that fails to heal completely.
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is less common, but can spread to other parts of the body if it’s left untreated. It can be a thickened, red, scaly spot that bleeds easily, crusts and ulcerates.
- Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because it can quickly spread fast to other parts of the body. Signs of melanoma include spots that are asymmetrical; have an uneven, smudgy border; blotchy colour that can include brown, black, blue, grey or red; and can be larger than 7mm.
Where should I seek help?
If you pick up anything unusual on your skin, it’s important to get it looked at as soon as you can for peace of mind. The earlier skin cancer is found, the more successful the treatment is likely to be. It’s best to see your doctor in the first instance. Your doctor will check your skin and provide you with advice on the most appropriate next steps. They may even remove the spot or take a small sample for testing.
To book a skin check call our reception team on 02 6684 1511.