When was your last skin cancer check?

When was your last skin check? Last month? Last year? Do you even remember?

Skin cancer affects nearly 1 in every 2 Australians and, living here in Cairns, we have some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. That’s why, as we recognise Skin Cancer Action Week (17-23 November), it’s important to know your risk levels, what to look for, and what do if you suspect you have skin cancer.

We know that your early life is a critical time to protect your skin against sun damage, so if you’ve been burned more than three times before the age of 18, you might already be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer. If you’re already had a skin cancer it means that your skin has already had a significant amount of UV exposure and so, again, your risk increases.

Another major risk factor is the amount of pigment in your skin, known as ‘melanin’. Those with dark skin have more melanin and are better able to absorb harmful UV rays from the sun, while people with fair skin or with red hair – known as the ‘Celtic’ skin type – have less melanin and therefore get sun damage easier and are more likely to develop skin cancer.

Other risk factors to be aware of include having a lot of moles and, while the disease isn’t generally hereditary, having a close relative who has had a melanoma also means you could be at higher risk.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Protective measures can take just a few minutes of your day – even becoming part of your daily routine. Wear a hat and sunglasses whenever you are outdoors and exposed to the sun, and apply sunscreen (of at least 30+ strength) in the morning before you go out. Sunscreen reduces the amount of UV that gets through to your skin but doesn’t stop it altogether, so you need to still be careful of becoming sunburnt. Of course, it also wears off as you go about your daily tasks so it’s important to re-apply it throughout the day.

That all explains how to protect yourself, but what about after the fact – what should you be aware of on your skin? The Skin Cancer College of Australasia has developed a simple guide to help you recognise some early signs of skin cancer using the acronym ‘SCAN’ – Sore, Changing, Abnormal, and New.

  • Sore – is the spot sore (scaly, itchy, bleeding or tender), and does it not heal within six weeks?
  • Changing – is the spot changing in size, shape or colour?
  • Abnormal – does it look different, feel different, or otherwise stand out when compared to other spots you have?
  • New – is the spot new? Most melanomas and all other skin cancer appear as new spots on your body.

The more ‘SCAN’ features your spot or mole has, the more concerning it is. Therefore it’s critical that if you notice any of these signs you see your doctor for either a ‘spot check’ or a full skin check. Our doctors at Cairns Skin Centre are all members of the Skin Cancer College of Australasia. We also offer the services of Consultant Dermatologist Dr Simon Tucker who has experience and expertise in the diagnosis and management of skin cancers using both surgical and non-surgical treatments.

In summary, know your risk level, protect yourself everyday against the sun, SCAN your skin and, if you have any concerns, see your GP for a proper skin check. The support is available, so there’s absolutely no reason that you should become a statistic.

Dr Uri Scelwyn
Skin Cancer Doctor at Cairns Skin Centre
**Information in this article is provided for general information purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a qualified medical practitioner**

When was your last skin cancer check?

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Consultations with one of our medical practitioners is by appointment only. Call (07) 4032 6788 between 8am and 5pm to talk to one of our friendly receptionists.

Note that in some instances you may require a referral from your GP.