Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the result of damage to the skin cells, which causes abnormal changes and growth. It is generally attributed to UV radiation from the sun, but can be caused by artificial sources as well. Most of us are guilty of getting sun burnt every now and then. However, your unprotected skin can be damaged day after day, even without burning. With constant UV exposure and skin damage comes an increased risk of developing skin cancer. Continue reading for more information and tips to protect your skin.

Types of skin cancer and their symptoms

Skin cancer affects many Australians, with 2 in 3 Aussies expected to develop skin cancer by the age of 70. So knowing what to look for is important.

Types of Skin Cancer
There are 3 main types of skin cancer; each named after the layer of skin or cell where they develop. Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common skin cancer. This cancer can appear as a lump or shiny, scaly patch of skin, rather than a mole. These lumps may bleed or become red and swollen at times. Squamous Cell Carcinoma is also fairly common. Again these skin cancers can appear as scaly, crusty patches or lumps, rather than moles. Melanoma is considered the most dangerous skin cancer because it can grow and spread quickly. It can start as a new mole or develop from an existing spot. Unlike standard moles that are very consistent in shape and colour, Melanomas will appear irregular in shape and colour. You can learn more about the types of skin cancer from the Cancer Council.

When should you get a skin check?

Skin cancer does not discriminate based on age, so regardless of your age, everyone should check their skin regularly. You can perform self checks as regularly as you like, such as when you shower. This will help you identify new moles or changes to existing moles. When you notice something different or a mole that concerns you, that is when you should consult a doctor about a skin check. *If you have trouble performing your own skin checks, then you may consider seeing a doctor every couple of years to help you check your skin thoroughly.

What happens at a skin check?


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Performing a regular self-examination can help you notice changes that may be a sign of skin cancer. The hard part is to check everywhere. To perform your own skin checks you will need to:
  • use a room with good light,
  • use a mirror or ask a loved one to check hard to see areas,
  • start at your head or feet and work your way up or down,
  • remember to check everywhere, even areas usually covered by clothes.
Don’t forget to check all of the following areas: > ears, scalp, armpits, fingernails, between your fingers and toes, soles of your feet, and buttocks. Book an appointment if you notice any changes or spots/lumps that concern you.

Full Examination

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A full body examination by a doctor is simple but can be time consuming if you have a number of moles. Something things to remember to make the process as smooth and help you prepare for a skin check are:
  • Wear clothes and shoes that are easy to take off and put back on.
  • Do not wear makeup, lipstick or nail polish as it can cover possible skin cancers.
  • Draw attention to any moles or lumps that are new or changing.
  • Examination of your genitals is not routinely done, so if you have a concerning mole there let your doctor know.
During the check, your doctor will use a dermatoscope to magnify your skin. On occasion it may also be necessary to monitor a mole or lump, so a localised picture of that spot will be taken and added to your file. If anything stands out as suspicious, your doctor will discuss further steps for monitoring or testing.

Mole Removal

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When a mole or lump is suspicious, your doctor will likely recommend a skin biopsy. This includes removing the mole or lump for testing. These procedures are done using a local anaesthetic to numb the site prior. The suspect lump/mole will then be surgically removed and the wound closed.
You may be required to make a different appointment for the biopsy. You may also have more than one mole/lump removed at a time. However, if you have a number of suspicious moles/lumps you may need to return over a couple of appointments. This gives your body the chance to heal in between each removal.
Each SolarCare skin cancer clinic has a surgical procedure room for these removals.
Skin Cancer Prevention
Prevention is the best cure, and there are several things you can do to help protect your skin from harmful UV rays. The Cancer Council recommends using a combination of protection measures, including:
  • SLIP – on sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible
  • SLOP – on sunscreen that is water resistant and at least SPF 30+ and reapply every 2 hours
  • SLAP – on a hat that protects your face, scalp, ears and neck
  • SEEK – shade to limit sun exposure
  • SLIDE – on sunglasses to protect your eyes
Knowing Your UV Levels
UV levels change throughout the day. So, knowing the daily UV rating and when it’s at its strongest means you can avoid being in the sun during those times. A UV rating of three (3) or higher is considered harmful enough to require sun protection. In South East Queensland that level can easily reach 13+ and be extreme enough to inflict severe sunburn as a result of the UV exposure. Use the SunSmart widget as a guide to know when the UV rating is high in your area.
Using these protection measures doesn’t guarantee that you will not get skin cancer, but it can help to reduce your risk. When combined with regular self-checks and professional skin checks, you can improve your defence against invasive skin cancer.