Skin checks: Don't neglect your skin

It is perhaps not too surprising that Australia has a relatively high skin cancer risk compared to other countries. In fact about two in three of us will be affected to some degree before the age of 70 and over 750,000 new cases of Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma are diagnosed and treated each year.

Skin cancer can usually be treated effectively, but there is always a potential for some instances to become quite serious or even fatal and the symptoms are not always very obvious. This makes it vital to maintain a sound strategy for managing your skin cancer risk.

The first line of defence
As with any health issue, prevention is always better than cure. With so much of our lifestyle being outdoors, it can be easy to forget how much sun exposure we are subjected to. While we may be more conscious of it if we are at the beach or some other relaxation activity, we may not be so vigilant during everyday activities, such as gardening or driving. The sun does not discriminate, however, so constant protective action is essential.

The key preventative issues to remember are:

  • Avoid sun exposure in the peak danger times of 11am -3pm (daylight saving time)
  • Wear a broad brimmed or legionnaires’ hat, long sleeved collared shirts and longer trousers/skirts
  • SPF 30+ sunscreen applied 20 minutes to exposure and reapplied every two hours
  • Close fitting sunglasses - Australian Standard AS1067.

Get familiar with your own skin
Even the most cautious sun-smart habits, however, do not eliminate the risk of potentially dangerous skin cancers occurring. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are much more frequently detected by visual checks, rather than any specific pain or discomfort. That means it is essential to be vigilant in inspecting your own skin every three months to keep a track of anything suspicious and to notice any changes in skin blemishes, moles or spots. Some advice on how to do this by yourself (or with the help of a friend or partner) can be found here

Jot down the dates of inspection and any observations on abnormalities or changes. Particular issues that need further investigation by a medical professional include:

  • a new spot that is different from other spots around it
  • change in shape, size, or colour of a spot, mole or freckle
  • spots, sores or moles that are not healing, itch, tingle, bleed or weep
  • a spot that becomes raised or develops a lump

Regular professional check-ups are essential
If you are concerned about any abnormalities you should see your usual doctor, but even if you don’t detect anything yourself it is important to get regular inspections from your doctor on an annual basis, or at more frequent intervals that they recommend if they believe you are higher risk.

Skin cancer clinics are also quite prevalent and may be an option for these check-ups. These are usually operated by GPs, but make sure you check up on the qualifications and experience of the person who will examine you.

Such examinations will often identify scaly growths or lesions caused by sun damage particularly on the face, scalp, lips, and the back of the hands. While the majority of these are not cancerous and can be treated quickly and simply with a freeze spray or topical creams, they can eventually become cancerous if left untreated.

For further information on screening and for details on the various types of skin cancers, visit: