Skin cancer remains a huge problem in Australia, and the increasing summer heat around the country is a timely reminder to watch out for changes in moles and the skin. Two in three Aussies will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70, making melanoma the third most common cancer in the country.
In simple terms, skin cancer is caused by UV damage from the sun. The UV radiation can damage a person’s DNA and that damage can develop into melanoma over time.
Sunburn is actually an extreme version of UV radiation damaging DNA to the point that cells can’t repair themselves and peel instead. It’s that damage that can lead to skin cancer.
“It tends to be decades after or the build-up or accumulation of that damage that leads to the skin cancer coming up decades later,” Heather Walker, Chair National Skin Cancer Committee at Cancer Council Australia, told Starts at 60. “That’s how the UV affects the cells and lead to cancer.”
As such, it’s extremely important that people keep an eye on their skin and see a GP or dermatologist as soon as they notice changes to moles, freckles and spots.
One of the best self-examination methods to determine if something is wrong is the ugly duckling rule.
“The ugly duckling method is a good rule of thumb. If a mole or a spot just looks different to the surrounding skin, different to the other moles you have, that’s often a sign that something’s not right,” Walker said. “We’d always recommend going to the GP and getting it checked because it’s probably nothing, but it could just save your life.”
Another easy way to pick up changes is to perform the ABCD check, which analyses a mole or spot’s asymmetry, border, colour and diameter.
The A stands for asymmetry. Spots and moles to be concerned about are ones that lack symmetry. If a line was drawn through the middle of the lump or bump and the sides didn’t match up, it could be a warning sign to mole is turning cancerous.
The B stands for border, so people should check whether their mole or spot is spreading from its original boarder or if it has an irregular edge.
C is for colour. Blotchy spots with a variety colours should be taken seriously.
D stands for diameter and it’s always important to check whether the size of a spot is growing or getting bigger.
More often than not, GPs and dermatologists will perform the ABCD test and will refer you to a specialist if they believe further testing or procedures are needed.
“If you know what’s normal for you and something seems different, just go and get it checked,” Walker said. “With melanoma, it can become deadly in as little as six weeks.”
Early detection, particularly in older members of society, is key because the earlier skin cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. It’s also never too late for people to protect themselves from further damage – even if they baked themselves in the sun when they were younger.
Slipping on clothing, slopping on sunscreen, slapping on a hat, seeking shade and sliding on sunglasses is essential whenever the UV level is three or higher. This can be checked through the Bureau of Meteorology or via the Cancer Council’s free Smart Sun app.
“Pretty much at this time of year, it’s all day, every day, across Australia,” Walker concluded. “Use your sun protection whenever you’re outdoors.”