About Skin Cancer
Your skin is your largest organ. About two square metres of it cover your body. It’s an incredibly versatile organ that allows you to move freely while giving off antibacterial substances to prevent infection, making vitamin D to convert calcium into strong bones, guarding you against the weather and acting as a giant sensor that lets your brain know what’s going on in the world around you.
Your skin is not invincible though. Skin cancer happens when your skin cells are damaged. In the sunburnt country that is Australia, 95-99% of skin cancer is due to overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the powerful sun. Skin cancer accounts for about 80% of new cancer cases in Australia each year.
Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is divided into:
- Non-melanoma skin cancer, namely basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma
Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common and usually respond well to treatment. That’s most commonly surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatments, depending on the type and location of the cancer, include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or cryotherapy (freezing the cancer off with liquid nitrogen).
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. It’s the third most common cancer in Australia. It’s treated by surgery, radiotherapy, targeted therapy (medicine that attacks certain genetic changes in your cells) or immunotherapy (drugs that stimulate your immune system to fight the cancer).
Skin Cancer Checks
Australia doesn’t have an organised national screening program for skin cancer. That means you won’t receive an invitation or reminder to get your moles checked, the way you receive reminders to get checked for breast or cervical cancer.
Many doctors and skin cancer clinics do offer their own screening programs though. That means you can attend and have someone check all your moles. This may be worth considering if you have a higher risk of skin cancer due to:
- Pale skin and red hair
- Having already had a skin cancer
- A family history of skin cancer
- Frequent sun exposure (such as working outdoors).
The Cancer Council recommends we all check our own skin regularly for signs of skin cancer. So, what should you be looking for?
Don’t Ignore These 7 Signs
You might easily miss a developing skin cancer unless you’re paying close attention. They rarely hurt, meaning you probably won’t feel anything that makes you worry. But they can be seen if you know what to look for.
You can stand in front of a big mirror or ask your partner to check you over. Remember to look everywhere, even the soles of your feet, your ears, and scalp.
Here are 7 skin cancer symptoms. The first five are from the ABCDE Melanoma Detection Guide.
- Asymmetry: If you drew a line through the middle of the spot, would the two sides match up, like folding a circle? Or is your spot quite higgedly-piggedly?
- Borders: Look at the edges of the spot. Are they spreading or irregular in some way?
- Colour: Are there are few different colours in there? Has the spot become blotchy with patches of black, blue, red, white or grey?
- Diameter: This means the width of the spot, measured from one side to the other. Is it more than 6mm? Is it getting bigger?
- Evolving: Is the spot changing in some way? It could be changing colour from brown to black or to a patchy mix. It could be developing a raised edge or a lump in the middle. It could be a rough or scaly surface. Does it itch, tingle, bleed or weep?
- Ugly Duckling: This fairy tale tells the story of a swan whose egg rolled into a duck’s nest, meaning he grew up looking very different from his siblings. Do you have any moles that look different to the others?
- Unhealed: Healthy skin is pretty good at repairing itself. Do you have any open sores that don’t seem to be healing?
If you find one of these 7 signs, then see your doctor. Of course, finding a common symptom doesn’t necessarily mean you have skin cancer. But it does mean you’ve found something that should be properly investigated by your GP.
How Elm Rd. May Be Able to Help You
At your appointment, your Elm Rd. doctor will examine any suspicious moles that are causing you concern. We may take a biopsy, where we remove a small sample of a dodgy mole for analysis in the laboratory. Depending on what’s found, we may refer you to a dermatologist (skin doctor) or surgeon for further treatment.