Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Finding it early improves the chances of successful treatment.
Checking your skin regularly is crucial to detecting skin cancer early. No one knows your skin like you do, and it’s never too late to start. Australians are actually very good at detecting their own skin cancers, so put your detective powers to good use!
Here are three things you should know about skin checks.
When to check your skin
I typically suggest monthly surveillance of your skin, so choose a particular day of the month that works best for you. Some dermatologists suggest checking your skin with the change of each season, but the main point is that you stick to a regular time that you will remember! This is also somewhat influenced by your own individual risk.
How to check your skin
Thoroughly scan your body (skin surfaces) from top to toe. Make sure you include your face, arms, legs and chest — front and back. A full-length and/or hand-held mirror can be a helpful tool!
Ask a partner, family member or friend where possible to help look at the hard to see places, including your back, scalp and back of your neck.
Do not forget your palms, the soles of your feet, nails and the places where the sun don’t shine (breasts, genitals). While rare, melanoma can still occur here.
What to look for
The key is to know the skin you are in, so you can better detect new or changing lesions.
For new spots, look out for any spot that is different from the rest of your spots or moles or other skin lesions – sometimes referred to as the “ugly duckling sign”.
For spots that have changed, look for a change in size, shape or colour, or have developed new symptoms such as an itch, pain etc.
We have the ABCDE rule to help us as well.
A- Asymmetry (the two halves of the spot are not equal)
B- Border irregularity (border not smooth, even or regular)
C- Colour variegation (multiple colours in the one spot)
D- Diameter >6mm
E- Evolution (changing)
Remember, melanoma can be pigmented (brown/black) or lacking pigment (amelanotic i.e. pink/red).
Some skin cancers present as translucent pearly bumps in the skin (basal cell carcinomas), scaly patches or nodules/bumps on the skin (squamous cell carcinomas), or simply as a persistent non-healing sore.
Get anything that is new and persisting for more than a few weeks seen by a medical professional.
It’s important to know your skin, make checking your skin a habit, and follow up with a GP or dermatologist if you notice anything new, changing or concerning.
Dr Annika Smith is a Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists and Consultant Dermatologist at St Vincent’s and Westmead Hospitals and several private clinics in Sydney, including the Melanoma Institute and the Skin Hospital Darlinghurst.