During a recent survey of The Latch’s audience, we discovered that 37% of Australians have never had a skin check before and 27% haven’t had one in a few years. While scary, these figures aren’t surprising given that Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Despite the prevalence of skin cancer amongst Australians, many of these cases are entirely preventable and, when detected and treated early, 90% of cases can usually be cured.
With this in mind, The Latch has created The Check-Up — a content series that will educate you on all things sun safety as well as the seriousness of skin cancer and specifically, melanoma. Check back each week for helpful and informative content on everything you need to know about this important topic.
Having regular professional skin checks every year is important in order to know what is happening with your skin. Moles can change quickly into something more sinister and your doctor will be able to pick this up. Alongside professional checks, inspecting your own skin at home is a necessary practice.
The sooner a skin cancer is found, the quicker it can be treated so if you have a thorough knowledge of your own body, you’ll be able to pinpoint when something has changed on your skin. To do this, develop a habit of checking yourself for any new spots, while also monitoring any potential changes to your moles.
According to Dr Annika Smith, a Fellow of the Australasian College of Dermatologists and consultant dermatologist at several private clinics, including Melanoma Institute Australia, about 50% of melanomas are self-detected and as such, she recommends monthly self-skin checks to stay on top of your skin health. Simply set a reminder in your phone for one day a month to complete a quick check and, if possible, ask a loved one to assist you.
“Scan your face, arms, chest — front and back, with the aid of a mirror — and legs,” Dr Smith told The Latch. “Ask someone to help look at the hard to see places including your back, scalp, back of legs and neck.”
If you’re not sure what to look for, Dr Smith recommends keeping an eye on anything new that might have popped up, as roughly 70% of melanomas appear as new lesions or growths. “Look for anything different from the rest — the ‘ugly duckling’ — as well as any changes in size, shape, colour of a mole or skin lesion,” Dr Smith said.
“If you have had a prior melanoma or skin cancer, checking the scar site and relevant lymph node basins is also recommended as part of your self-checks, which your doctor can guide you with.”
When you check your skin for the first time, it’s good to pay attention to your freckles and moles. How do they all look? Are they round? What colour are they? Some professionals recommend taking photos of yourself in order to monitor your spots should they change.
When doing your check, use the ABCDE guidelines which help you monitor your skin and detect any early signs of melanoma. Please note that melanoma may present differently for different people, so head to the doctors for a professional skin check if something looks a little suss. Melanoma Institute Australia has helpful pictures on its website about how to use this guideline when doing a self-check.
The guidelines are as follows: A is for ASYMMETRY. Is the mole or spot asymmetrical? Does one side match the other side? If not, it’s best to get this checked. B is for BORDER irregularly. If the edges are irregular, ragged or blurred, it’s time to have this looked at.
C is for COLOUR variation, which means if the colour is not the same all over — if there are different shades of colour — this needs attention. D is for DIAMETER — if the area is larger than 6mm or is growing larger, this is a cause of concern.
And finally, E is for EVOLVING, so you should look for any changes in size, shape, colour, elevation or any other change including bleeding, itching or crusting. According to Melanoma Institute Australia, this last one is likely the strongest of all the warning signs and you should have this checked by a doctor immediately.
How to check yourself
According to Melanoma Institute Australia, the best way to do this is in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lit room. Start at the tip to of your head (beginning with your scalp) and work your way down. To do this, part your hair into sections in order to check your scalp, then move to your face, neck, nostrils, ears and lips.
After this, move on to your arms, checking both the top and underneath as well as your fingernails. Then move further down your body, remembering to check even the places the sun doesn’t hit because melanoma can be found in places where the skin isn’t exposed.
Should anything look different or you have any concerns, head straight to your doctor to get a professional opinion.