WHAT IS SKIN CANCER?
Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, for example, by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun.
There are three main types of skin cancer:
- basal cell carcinoma
- squamous cell carcinoma
- melanoma– the most dangerous form of skin cancer
Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are known as non-melanoma skin cancer.
SKIN CANCER FACTS
Approximately, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with a melanoma by the time they are 70.
Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with almost double the incidence compared to women.
Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer, melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australians.
In 2014, 13,134 Australians were diagnosed with melanoma.
Every year, in Australia:
- skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers
- the majority of skin cancers are caused by exposure to the sun
- GPs have over 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer
- the incidence of skin cancer is one of the highest in the world, two to three times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK.
In 2015, 2162 people died from skin cancer in Australia, 1520 from melanoma and 642 from non-melanoma skin cancers.
SKIN CHECKS – SELF CHECKING
The first symptom of a skin cancer is usually the appearance of a new spot, or a change in an existing freckle or mole. The change may be in size, shape or colour and is normally noticed over several weeks or months. Everyone should be doing monthly self-skin-checks.
Some tips for self-checks include:
- Stand in front of a full length mirror in a well-lit room.
- Start at the top and work your way down your body.
- Begin by using a brush or hairdryer to part your hair into sections so that you can check your scalp.
- Move to your face and neck, not forgetting your ears, nostrils and lips.
- Be sure to check both the top and underneath of your arms. Don’t forget your fingernails.
- As you move down your body don’t forget to check places where the sun doesn’t shine! Melanoma can be found in places that do not have exposed skin.
- Ask a partner or family member to check your scalp and back.
- The best way to monitor changes on your skin is by taking photographs every few months and comparing them to identify any changes. React quickly if you see something growing and/or changing.
The ABCDE guidelines provide a useful way to monitor your skin and detect the early signs of skin cancers.
The ABCDE system reminds you to check five sorts of changes that include:
- Asymmetry(unevenness) – one half of the spot doesn’t match the other.
- Border– the edges of the spot are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
- Colour– the colour of the spot is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, red, white or blue.
- Diameter– the spot is larger than 6 mm across (about 1/4 inch) or is growing larger.
- Evolution or elevation– the spot may change in shape or size (enlarge) and a flat spot may become raised in a matter of a few weeks.
Also be aware of any mole or freckle that:
- changes over a period of months
- grows in size
- changes shape
- becomes mottled in colour
- has a persistent itch.
Please note that this is just a guide and skin cancers may present with different characteristics. This is why regular skin checks from a professional are so important.
SKIN CHECKS – WITH A DOCTOR
Doctors use a number of tools and techniques to examine skin thoroughly, beyond what the naked eye can see. And melanomas that are detected and treated early are cured in 90% of cases. So, in addition to self-checking regularly you should have a professional skin check once a year. It is also important to get a professional skin check by a doctor if anything suspicious appears, in addition to having your annual skin check.
A GP can perform a skin check and examine any lesions of concern. They are familiar with your history, can talk to you about risk factors and family history, and treat some skin cancers. They might also refer you to a dermatologist, if needed.
All MyClinic Doctors are able to perform comprehensive skin checks. Our GPs have a special tool called a Dermatoscope. A Dermatoscope is a handheld instrument which enables a more accurate view of skin lesions through the process of magnification and illumination and elimination of the visual damping effect of the very outermost layer of the skin.