Skin cancer action this summer

Many Australians and visitors to our sun-drenched country find themselves red, raw, blistered and peeling at some point during our long summer. It’s almost tradition and it often happens without a passing thought beyond applying some moisturising cream and making a mental note to be more careful.

It’s this kind of blasé disregard for the sun’s effects which have led to Australia having one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world, with 2 in 3 Australians diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70.

Prevention is critical in lowering the rate of skin cancer. Most awareness campaigns focus on ways to reduce your risk of the damage which causes cancerous mutations in the first place. But prevention is only one side of the coin when it comes to reducing the number of people dying from skin cancer. The other is to improve detection of skin cancers at the early stages when they are treatable. Luckily, there is a simple guide for identifying when a growth might not be harmless and merits a trip to your GP.


Types of Skin Cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer: Squamous Cell Carcinoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer (and one of the most common cancers more broadly). It is, however, also one of the least dangerous forms of cancer. It’s a slow growing cancer which typically affects areas of the skin at the highest risk of sun exposure, such as hands, neck, and face. It is characterized as a lumpy growth with a scaly, dry and flaky texture that may ulcerate or heal incompletely.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma, like Basal Cell Carcinoma, appears as a lump of thickened tissue with a scaly, dry appearance. It may bleed easily, or ulcerate, and also grows fairly slowly over an extended period. It is more commonly found in people over the age of 50.

Melanoma

Melanoma is the skin cancer of greatest concern, as it grows comparatively rapidly, and is prone to metastasizing or spreading to other parts of the body quite quickly if not treated in a timely fashion. Of the 2,162 people who died of skin cancer in 2015, 1,520 (70%) of these died from Melanoma, despite the number of diagnoses of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) being much higher.


The ABCDE of Melanoma Detection

Melanoma often begins through either the development of a new growth, or changes occurring to an existing mole. When wondering if a mole needs to be assessed by a doctor, the below acronym provides a good general rule as to what to look for.

A mole should be assessed by a doctor if it meets any of the following criteria:

Asymmetry has an irregular or asymmetric shape

Borderhas a border that is poorly defined or has a notched, irregular appearance

Colourhas a variety of colours or colour variations/blotches within the mole

Diameter – has a diameter that is in excess of the diameter of a pencil

Evolution – has shown signs of recent change such as growth or changes in colour etc

These are good guidelines for recognizing a mole you need to show your doctor, however it’s always best practice to have any growth or mole of concern assessed by a professional sooner rather than later. Book an appointment with your GP today – it might save your life!

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