Skin cancer checks are an essential part of life for all people living in Queensland, a state with one of the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. A skin check may be something you do if you notice a spot which is changing or growing, or just looks different from everything else on your body. Or it could be something you do at regular intervals. Skin checks are recommended for all adults living in Australia, as part of normal care with your general practitioner.
Who should be checked?
An annual skin check (or more frequent checks) is recommended for adults if:
- you have a history of skin cancer or dysplastic naevus syndrome (abnormal mole)
- you have an extensive history of sun exposure
- you have a family history of skin cancer or dysplastic naevus syndrome (abnormal moles)
- you have premalignant change on your skin (solar keratosis)
- you have a large number of moles on your skin
- your doctor has recommended a regular check
What to watch out for
Skin cancers can be sometimes obvious but more often subtle changes in your skin. Any change in your skin can alert you to the risk of skin cancer but in particular it is important to watch out for:
- any change in a mole or pigmented spot on your skin
- any new pigmented spot on your skin, particularly if it changes after you first notice it
- any persisting itch or irritation in a mole or other spot on your skin
- any persisting red scaley mark, particularly if it grows over time
- any spot that bleeds easily, for instance, with towelling after bathing
- any new lump that arises, particularly if it grows after you first notice it
If you have noticed any of these changes on your skin you should present immediately to your general practitioner or skin cancer doctor for a check.
What can happen if I don't get a check?
The most important factor in skin cancer care is the prompt recognition of a skin cancer and it's early and complete removal. Melanoma in particular can be deadly if there is a delay in diagnosis. The chance of a person dying from melanoma is most closely related to the thickness of the melanoma at the time of initial diagnosis and any evidence of early spread. In most cases, with prompt recognition and treatment, the chance of dying from melanoma is rare (level 1 melanoma has a 5 year survival rate of >99%), however, in some cases the melanoma has already spread from the initial site where it arose, and in this situation treatment options can be limited. The chance of an individual patient dying from a melanoma has dropped in the last 10 years due to early recognition and treatment of this cancer, so don't delay if you believe you may have one.