Even as we head towards the winter months, it’s extremely important to realise the risk of skin cancer in Australia. It may come as no surprise, but Queensland in particular remains the skin cancer capital of the world – with an estimated 71 cases per 100,000 people of invasive melanoma. While melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer, there are more common ones that can cause a lot of grief too. One study has showed that around 7% of Queenslanders over the age 20 have gone under the knife for non-melanoma cancers such as SCC or BCC. With 30+ years since the start of the Slip, Slop, Slap campaign we are certainly making improvements, but it’s very important to check yourself and to stay vigilant.
Australians love to enjoy the sun, but sun protection is always paramount. The Cancer Council now promotes the 5 S’s of protection: Slip on a shirt; Slop on sunscreen; Slap on a hat; Seek shade where possible and; Slide on sunglasses. Reapplying a sunscreen with SPF 50+ is key when going out for long periods of time, but many other skin products now incorporate some SPF for daily use. When choosing these products it is important to use one that is broad spectrum; this means that it blocks both UVA and UVB radiation.
The best way to ensure early detection is to have annual skin checks by your GP and perform monthly self-checks.
Despite these precautions, skin cancers can develop on any part of the skin at any time. They are more common in sun-exposed areas and increase in incidence as you age, however they can occur in anyone of any age. The best way to ensure early detection and therefore treatment is to have annual skin checks (by a GP or dermatologist) and perform monthly self-checks. If you notice any changes it is essential to bring this to the attention of your GP.
Performing regular self-checks is essential as some skin cancers can arise rapidly. To do this, you’ll usually need a full-length mirror or friend/partner to help. Remember to look all over – including scalp, ears and lips, but also places like the soles of your feet or near the nailbeds – remember, any skin can develop cancer.
What you’re looking for is as easy as ABCDE. These represent red flags that should prompt you to see your doctor for a spot check or a full skin examination.
A is for asymmetry – how irregular a mole might look. A good tip is to divide the lesion in half, where if one side is not the mirror image of the other it is asymmetrical.
B is for borders – a spot with spreading or irregular edges.
C is for colour – if there are several colours within a mole (this could be different shades of brown but can also include red, white, grey, blue or black).
D is for diameter – a spot that is growing and changing in diameter or size.
E is for elevation – a mole or spot that is raised.
As well as the ABCDE it is important to consider:
- A new mole or spot
- An existing mole or spot that has changes
- A dry or flaky patch that has been present for more than a month
- A sore that hasn’t healed in more than a month
- A dark spot or under a toenail or fingernail
- A spot that looks abnormal or doesn’t look right
- A mole that bleeds or is itchy
Fortunately, most skin cancers have an excellent prognosis if caught early enough. Depending on the location and type of skin cancer this can either be managed by a GP, dermatologist or plastic surgeon. So if you notice suspicious spots or it has been more than 12 months since your last skin check book in with your GP today.
By Rob Thomas