Why should I check my skin?
The short answer is because skin cancer can kill you!
Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. Almost 2 out of 3 of us will develop skin cancer at some time in our life.
Melanomas are the most deadly form of skin cancer and are the third most common form of all cancers in Australian men and women. The represent 10% of all cancers. 1 in 17 of us will be diagnosed with a melanoma before we’re 85. More than 12,500 new cases are diagnosed in Australia every year and more than 1,500 of us will die from melanoma this year.
Checking your skin regularly familiarizes you with what’s normal for you, which means you’re more likely to notice a new mole or skin change before it’s too late. Deciding on a regular time to check your skin, such as the start of each new season, helps you develop a healthy skin habit.
If diagnosed early melanomas and other skin cancers respond well to simple treatments that can result in complete cure.
Checking your skin may save your life!
What do I look for?
While most skin cancers are found on the face, head, back and upper limbs, they can appear on any part of the body. Check your whole body for anything that’s changed in size, shape or colour, or has started to bleed or itch, any new spot that’s different from other spots around it, or a sore that doesn’t heal. Some cancers can be difficult to diagnose. Benign dark spots can be confused with melanomas, while aggressive melanomas can sometimes look harmless and can only be diagnosed by taking a biopsy.
Any change is potentially a cause for concern and should prompt you to immediately seek a professional skin check.
Who’s at most risk of skin cancer?
- Anyone can get skin cancer, but those at most risk include:
- Fair skin that freckles and burns easily
- Light-colored red hair and blue eyes
- History of blistering sunburn, especially as a child or teenager
- Use of sun beds, especially as a young adult.
- Having a large number of moles on your body
- Spending a lot of time outdoors.
- Previous skin cancer/s
- Family history of skin cancer
Types of skin cancer:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
BCCs are by far the most commonly occurring skin cancers. They are also the least dangerous because they grow slowly and rarely spread through the body. However, if left untreated BCCs can cause serious damage by eroding through the skin and destroying underlying tissue and bone. BCCs near the eye especially, have the potential to cause significant damage and disfigurement.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCCs are the next most common form of skin cancer. They most commonly develop on the face, lips, or ears and can spread throughout the body. SCCs can become life threatening if not treated early.
Melanoma is the least common, but most dangerous form of skin cancer. While early detection offers hope of complete cure, delayed diagnosis increases the serious risk of uncontrollable spread throughout the body and carries a very poor prognosis.
Treatment for skin cancers
Liquid nitrogen is applied to the cancer to freeze and destroy the tissue.
Curettage and electrodesiccation (diathermy)
The cancer is shaved down to its roots and the wound is cauterized using an electrosurgical diathermy to kill any remaining cancer cells.
The cancer is removed surgically and the resulting wound is stitched closed.
It is not always possible to diagnose skin cancer simply by looking at it. In such cases additional information is needed and a tiny sample of skin tissue must be removed and examined under a microscope by an experienced pathologist.
Prevention is far better than cure!
Sun screen (SPF 50) on a daily basis, protective clothing, hats, sun glasses and regular skin checks, particularly if you have fair skin, are the best form of protection against skin cancer.