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How a skin cancer check can save your life

4 minute read

From getting a suspicious mole checked by your doctor to wearing suitable sunscreen, you can minimise your risk of skin cancer if you know the steps to take and the warning signs.

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with the cancer making up about 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers in Australia each year. Roughly 66% of Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before turning 70.

While small amounts of ultraviolet light (UV) are necessary for healthy bones and muscles, too much exposure can damage your skin’s cells and ultimately lead to skin cancer.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to recognise the warning signs and prevent skin cancer.

I’m young – do I still need a skin check?

Yes. Although skin cancer is rare in young adults, it’s still a good idea to get a skin check, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer, a history of sunburns, a lot of freckles or moles or are taking a medicine that suppresses your immune system.

What’s involved in a skin cancer check?

During a skin check, you’ll be asked to remove your clothing and may be asked to put on a medical gown. Your doctor will use a bright light and a magnifier called a dermatoscope to examine your skin thoroughly.

Unless your doctor finds something suspicious, the examination should take around 15 to 30 minutes. If your doctor finds something concerning, they’ll take a photo of the lesion and perform a skin biopsy.

Credit: nib health insurance

What checks can I do at home?

Skin cancer can occur anywhere – even on parts of your body that get little sunlight, like the soles of your feet and under your nails.

It’s important to regularly do your own checks in addition to professional skin examinations under the care of a healthcare professional. To check yourself at home, inspect your entire body. Use a mirror or ask a family member or friend to check difficult-to-see places, like your scalp and back.

Most moles are completely harmless, but if you start to notice changes in a mole’s appearance or pigmented patches, consult your doctor. While examining your skin at home, remember the ABCDEs to check for the signs of skin cancer:

1. A is for asymmetrical

A mole or freckle that has one half that is different from the other half.

2. B is for border

A mole that has edges that are irregular, uneven or blurred.

3. C stands for colour

A mole that has multiple colours, shade of one colour or is different to other moles in colour.

4. D is for diameter

A mole that is growing larger.

5. E is for evolving

Be vigilant of moles that change size, shape, height or colour, or start to itch or bleed.

‘The doctor spotted the melanoma early’

Like many Australians, Jackie McLennan grew up in the sun. A young adult of the ‘60s and ‘70s, when wearing sunscreen was considered optional, Jackie didn’t think about the potential harms of ultraviolet radiation.

But that all changed as she grew older and realised her fair skin and blue eyes put her at higher risk for skin cancer.

“Growing up, every summer was spent at the beach, and my friends and I all enjoyed sunbathing and wanted to get a suntan,” Jackie says.

“Our perspectives changed later in life when there was much more public information available about the dangers of getting sunburnt.”

Jackie McLennan
Growing up, every summer was spent at the beach, and my friends and I all wanted to get a suntan

During her regular skin check, Jackie’s dermatologist noticed a suspicious spot that looked like a freckle on her nose and performed a biopsy during her appointment. The sample was sent to a pathologist for testing, and within a few days, she received her results.

Jackie’s dermatologist confirmed the biopsied freckle was melanoma stage 1. Fortunately, the melanoma had been spotted early but further surgery was needed to remove part of the nose skin. This involved having a skin graft, where a piece of skin was taken from the side of Jackie’s neck to use on her nose.

“I found the whole experience rattled me a bit. Now I’ll never miss a skin check-up.”

Be safe, check your skin

Early detection probably saved Jackie’s life. Performing regular skin checks at home and visiting a doctor every six months for a professional skin check is the easiest way to prevent cancer.

Ready for a skin check?

We can help. Our Find a Provider service allows you to search for health professionals in your local area and see contact information. The practitioners that nib members see more frequently will also display average out of pocket expenses and patient reviews.

If you’re heading to your GP for a skin check, it could be a good opportunity to find out what other examinations you might be due for.

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