Skin cancer is a preventable disease and the majority of skin cancers are treatable if detected early. Regular skin checks should help you detect any suspicious lumps or spots as soon as they develop. Pay particular attention to your arms, legs, face, neck, back, shoulders and the back of your hands. Prevention involves a combination of five simple steps: Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide.
Each year in Australia almost 1,900 people die from skin cancer; yet skin cancer is a preventable disease and the majority of skin cancers are treatable if detected early.
While prevention is better than cure, having a good awareness of your own skin should help you to detect any suspicious lumps or spots as soon as they develop, at a stage when they can be successfully treated.
Three types of skin cancer
There are three types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma
|This is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually occurs on the upper body. These cancers are often red and slightly raised, with a scaly area that can bleed if knocked. They often become ulcerated as they develop.|
Squamous cell carcinoma
|This cancer grows over a period of weeks or months and may spread to other parts of the body if not treated promptly. It occurs most often (but not only) on areas exposed to the sun. This can include the head, neck, hands and forearms. This cancer looks like thickened, red, scaly spots.|
| ||Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and is associated with a history of multiple sunburns. Each year in Australia, 1,400 people die from this disease and over 10,000 new cases are diagnosed. Melanoma develops over weeks to months. If caught early, it is usually curable. However, if it spreads to other parts of the body, it can be very difficult to cure. |
Melanoma appears as a new spot or as an existing spot, freckle or mole that changes colour, size or shape. It usually has an irregular, smudgy outline and is often more than one colour. Even mild sunburn and tanning can contribute to skin cell damage that can lead to melanoma.
Prevention of skin cancer
UV levels are most intense during the middle of the day. Check the SunSmart UV Alert for daily sun protection times. This is available as a free SunSmart app, and can also be found online at sunsmart.com.au or bom.gov.au/weather/uv, in the weather section of newspapers. The sun protection times show when the UV Index is forecast to be 3 or above.
SunSmart recommends five steps to protect against sun damage during the daily sun protection times:
- Slip – on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Slop – on SPF (Sun Protection Factor) 30+ sunscreen. Make sure it is broad spectrum (protects against UVA and UVB rays) and is water resistant. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and reapply every two hours. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- Slap – on a broad-brimmed hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
- Seek – shade.
- Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian/New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003.
Be aware of your skin
All Australians should become familiar with their skin. Be aware of your entire body as skin cancers can sometimes occur on parts of the body that are not exposed to the sun.
Use a hand-held mirror to check the skin on your back and the back of your neck, or ask someone else to look for you. Don’t forget your armpits, inner legs, ears, eyelids, hands and feet. Use a comb to move sections of hair aside and inspect your scalp.
Skin cancer – what to look for
Using the ABCDE system can be a good way to check for changes to your skin. While performing this skin check, remember that if you notice anything unusual (including any of the following, or the development of a new spot), you should visit your doctor.
The ABCDE system reminds you to check five sorts of changes that include:
- Asymmetry (unevenness) – one half of the spot doesn’t match the other.
- Border – the edges of the spot are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred.
- Colour – the colour of the spot is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, red, white or blue.
- Diameter – the spot is larger than 6 mm across (about 1/4 inch) or is growing larger.
- Evolution or elevation – the spot may change in shape or size (enlarge) and a flat spot may become raised in a matter of a few weeks.
- Changes over a period of months
- Grows in size
- Changes shape
- Becomes mottled in colour
- Has a persistent itch.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Your local community health centre
- The Cancer Council of Victoria Information and Support Line Tel. 13 11 20
- Multilingual Cancer Information Line, Victoria Tel. 13 14 50
Things to remember
- Skin cancer is usually preventable – remember to slip, slop, slap, seek shade and slide on sunglasses during the daily sun protection times. Check these each day on the free SunSmart app for smartphones, or online.
- Most skin cancers are treatable if found early.
- Get familiar with all of your skin, not just sun-exposed areas. .
- If you notice anything new or unusual on your skin, see your doctor.
You might also be interested in:
- Cancer screening.
- Health checks for men.
- Skin cancer - children.
- Skin cancer - prevention and early detection.
- Skin cancer - protecting outdoor workers.
- Skin cancer - risk factors.
- Skin cancer - tanning.
- Solariums (sunbeds and tanning beds).
- Sun protection in the snow.
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Last reviewed: October 2012
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