How to tell if you have skin cancer

Although skin cancer survival rates continue to increase, skin cancer persists to be the 4th most common cancer 2019 (behind breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer) in Australia, as of 2015 up until now. In 2019 alone, there were 15,229 new recorded cases and it is estimated that 1 in 17 Australians will be diagnosed with Melanoma (skin cancer) by age 85. These statistics are pulled from Cancer Australia.

Why is skin cancer so prominent in Australia?

Australia is second ranking in the world for skin cancer (following New Zealand) and surprisingly, it is not due to the ozone hole. The main cause to why so many people develop Melanoma in these regions is because their skin types are too sensitive for the environment.

Australia and New Zealand are both made up of roughly 90% European immigrant descendants. Therefore, the majority of Australia is populated by people whose ancestors came from much less sunny climates but passed down their fair skin. The lack of darker, more protective pigmentation in these skin types means that their skin is extremely vulnerable to damage from harmful sun rays.

How do you know if you have skin cancer?

Sunburns, tanning, and solariums might cause skin cancer.

It is important to be aware of and take good care of your skin, especially as it ages. Check your skin regularly for inconsistencies, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors or exposed to sun.

Here are some things to look out for that generally signify skin cancer:

  • Check areas that are predominantly exposed to the sun. Such as your head, face, neck, chest, arms/shoulders, hands. But keep in mind that skin cancer can develop anywhere in the body.
  • Watch for any unusual growths/spots on the skin.
  • Any areas of the skin that feel irritated, inflamed, or sore.
  • Spots or sores that don’t heal or go away.

A key tool to look out for when searching for signs of skin cancer, are the ABCDE’s of Melanoma:

Asymmetry: One side of a spot does not match the other.

Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, blended.

Colour: The colour is inconsistent, may include shades of black, brown, pink, white, or even blue.

Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimetres across, although melanomas can occasionally be smaller.

Evolving: The spot changes shape, size, or colour.

If you find a spot that has any of the ABCDE’s of Melanoma, you should definitely consult a doctor.

How to protect against skin cancer

  • Avoid tanning in the direct sunlight or in tanning beds.
  • Always wear a hat and sunglasses.
  • Wearing at least SPF 15 outdoors, and a much stronger SPF when you’re spending time outside is a fundamental action most people tend to overlook.
  • It is also beneficial to spend time in the shade when the sun is at high points in the sky (between 11am and 3pm).

Skin cancer prevention measures should be applied to your daily routine as it not only protects your skin but also helps to keep it looking younger and healthier.

Mr Dean White is an exceptionally qualified plastic surgeon in Melbourne like A/Prof Dean White with a special interest in complex skin cancer work.

If you are concerned about skin cancer, or to learn more about skin cancer, contact Mr White and his team to discuss further prevention and treatment options.


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