Safeguarding your skin: The importance of regular checks to help prevent melanoma

Nov 15, 2023
While regular skin checks and prevention measures are important, knowing what to look for and how regularly to check also plays a major role. Source: Getty Images.

More than 130,000 Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer each year with two in three Aussies being diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before they turn 70, according to Cancer Council Australia.

With the rates of melanoma so worryingly high in our sunburnt country, it’s crucial to stay vigilant for any irregularities on our skin. But it can often be difficult to determine what is potentially skin cancer or just a harmless, common freckle.

With that in mind, Starts at 60 spoke to the experts to determine what to look out for when checking your skin and the importance of regular self-checking.

Cancer Council Australia CEO, Professor Tanya Buchanan spoke of the importance of regular self-check and encouraged “Australians to develop a regular habit of checking their skin, including skin not normally exposed to the sun, for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles”.

“Cancer Council recommends that if anyone notices anything new, unusual or changing, they go to the GP to get it checked out. Skin cancers can often be diagnosed and managed by a GP,” Buchanan said.

“If someone has a skin cancer that requires further treatment, a GP may refer them to a specialist such as a dermatologist.”

Buchanan stressed the importance of skin checks but explained that it’s just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to managing your risk of skin cancer.

“Whilst skin checks are important, it’s also essential to think about prevention,” she said.

“It’s never too late to be SunSmart. UV damage is cumulative and UV exposure adds up over time, contributing to your long-term risk of skin cancer. However, by using all five forms of sun protection, you’ll protect your skin and prevent further sun damage adding up.

“That’s why we recommend you Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide whenever the UV is 3 or above no matter your age!”

While regular skin checks and prevention measures are important, knowing what to look for and how regularly to check also plays a major role.

“It’s best to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so that you can easily identify if any changes occur,” Buchanan said.

“The ABCDE of melanoma detection can be a useful guide when checking your skin.”

The ABCDE of melanoma detection refers to the following:

  • Asymmetry – Look for spots that lack symmetry. That is, if a line was drawn through the middle, the two sides would not match up.
  • Border – A spot with a spreading or irregular edge (notched).
  • Colour – Blotchy spots with a number of colours such as black, blue, red, white and/or grey.
  • Diameter – Look for spots that are getting bigger.
  • Evolving – Spots that are changing and growing.

When performing self-checks, Buchanan said to “make sure you check your entire body, as skin cancers can sometimes occur on parts of the body that are not exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet, between fingers and toes and under nails.”

“It’s also best to undress completely and make sure you have good light,” she said.

“You can use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check for you.”

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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