Dr Suresh is a GP and skin cancer doctor in Brisbane, and patients can book with him at this link

Around 17000 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma this year. Checking yourself for signs of skin cancer is extremely important and it could lead to much earlier detection of skin cancer and lead to much easier and simpler treatment. Self checks are quite easy and simple to do and it may even save your life if you find a skin cancer at a much earlier stage.

It is estimated that this year approximately 17000 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma. This number doesn’t even include those diagnosed with other types of skin cancer, for example Basal Cell or Squamous Cell skin cancers. Thankfully despite this the number of those that are predicted to die from Melanoma is small at around 1-2 per 100,000 people. This is likely to be at least in part due to Australians doing self checks for skin cancer, and also seeing their GP or other skin cancer doctor for a formal skin check on a regular basis. Early detection is key to early treatment which is very often curative.

Unfortunately skin sancer is very common in Australia. It varies between state, but Australians have a much higher incidence and prevalence of skin cancer compared to the rest of the world, with New Zealand coming in a very close second.

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Source: https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/cancer-trends/skin-cancer-statistics

Thankfully the vast majority of skin cancer is treatable, and most of the time the treatment is curative. That’s right, the overwhelming majority of skin cancers can be cured, with extremely good survival rates. There are various treatment options available, including cryotherapy (liquid nitrogen), creams, curretage and surgical excision. (All treatments carry risks so please speak to your GP or skin cancer doctor to discuss the best treatment options for you). All of this however depends on finding that skin cancer in the first place. The evidence shows that one of the most important factors for determining cancer survival rates is early detection, and this usually starts with the patient. Checking yourself for those signs and symptoms is the first step and for skin cancer, this is the ‘self check’.

So how do you do a self skin check?

If you aren’t sure what to do, speak to your GP or skin cancer doctor, but in essence you are checking the whole of your body for signs of skin cancer. You don’t need to rush out and buy medical equipment for looking at your moles and you do not need to perform detailed examination of all your marks and mole – that’s what your GP or skin cancer doctor will do for you in your formal skin check. What you will need though is a space to do the check in, and a good light source. You can’t find what you can’t see. Another thing that can be extremely helpful is another person to check those bits you can’t see, namely on your scalp or on your back. Another pair of eyes is also useful to give you a second opinion on something, or something you may have missed.

If you don’t have someone that you are happy doing this for you, or they aren’t confident, then don’t panic. Just do what you can yourself, and use a mirror or your smartphone camera to help you see those hard to reach places.

Here’s 5 simple steps to doing a self check:

  1. Get undressed. It may sound obvious, but you need to be able to see your skin. You cannot do a skin check through your clothes. You should be checking everywhere including your genital region so this means getting totally undressed (either by yourself or make sure you are happy having another person with you).
  2. Stand in front of a full length mirror if possible. If you don’t have one, don’t panic, just find whatever mirror you can.
  3. Check your head, face, ears, chest, arms (including your armpits), legs. Bend your elbows to make it easier to check your arms, and check both front and back of your body. Check your hands, including between fingers. Check the back of your legs, check your feet, check your toes, including between your toes.
  4. Now check your bits. Yep you need to check those genitals. Despite what many think you can get skin cancer where the sun doesn’t shine. Make sure you give yourself a thorough check in all those nooks and crannies.
  5. Get your mirror, camera, or your friend/partner to check those bits you can’t see.
How to check your skin in the mirror
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Source: https://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/check-for-signs-of-skin-cancer.html

How often should I do a self check?

This depends on your individual risk factors, but generally you should be doing a self check for signs of skin cancer every 3-6 months. You do not need to do them any more frequently than this, and in fact doing them too regularly may cause you to miss a new growth or lesion because you may not notice changes if you see it all the time. Your GP or skin cancer doctor should advise you on how often to do them, but as a general rule I usually recommend every 6 months for low risk patients or 3 monthly for higher risk patients.

So what do I need to look for? What are signs of skin cancer?

The 3 most common things to look for are:

  1. Is it new?
  2. Is it growing?
  3. Is it changing?

Now there are other things to look for as well, and I tell my patients that in addition to the above that they should look for anything that is causing some sort of symptom. Normal moles and harmless skin lesions don’t usually cause symptoms. You aren’t usually aware of them, so if you suddenly start to feel pain from a mole, that may be a concerning sign of possible skin cancer like Melanoma. Likewise if a mole or lesion starts to spontaenously bleed then it could be a sign of a skin cancer like a Basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

I found something that I think is new? What should I do now?

First, don’t panic. Depending your age, new skin marks may very well be normal moles. Typically up to the age of 30 people will get new moles. It may even occur up to the age of 50, although the 30-50 age range can be a slightly grey area so if you think you have new moles in this age range I would suggest you see a doctor. Over 50 years old it is very rare to get new moles forming so if you find something new you should see your doctor.

I usually tell my patients that if they find something new not to panic and just observe it for a month or so. That usually gives a good time to see what’s happening with it. If it looks ok, doesn’t cause any other issues, and isn’t growing or changing, then the chances are you don’t need to rush to see your GP or skin cancer doctor and can probably wait to see them for your scheduled skin check. If however in that month it starts to grow or change then you should see your doctor as soon as possible to tell them. It is actually very helpful if as a patient you can tell your doctor what is happening over a little time as it can give them an indication of what it may be and what action they should take.

The next step is see your GP or skin cancer doctor and get them to examine you, either for that specific skin lesion or a full body check if you haven’t had one recently. They will talk you through whatever needs to happen next.

Dr Suresh is a GP and skin cancer doctor in Brisbane, and patients can book with him at this link

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