When someone as young, fit and healthy as Hawks star Jarryd Roughead gets diagnosed with skin cancer, it raises more than a few questions.
Recently, SunSmart have received plenty of queries about skin cancer, how to check for it and what to do if you find a suspicious spot.
Here are their answers to six of the most commonly asked questions.
1. Who is at risk of skin cancer?
A staggering two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, which is why it is so important that we learn about skin cancer and sun protection.
The major cause of skin cancer is overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. The more exposure you have over your lifetime, the greater your risk of cancer. Working outdoors will increase your skin cancer risk, as will a history of severe sunburns and tanning.
Having a history of skin cancer in your family, a large number of moles, fair skin or red hair may also make you more susceptible to developing skin cancer.
Most people diagnosed with skin cancer are over the age of 45, with twice as many men in this age group dying from the disease than women the same age. However, melanoma is also by far the most common cancer diagnosed among 15-29 year olds. No one is immune.
2. What’s the best way to check for skin cancer?
Skin cancer can develop very quickly, so it’s important not to rely on an annual skin check or other screening program as your detection method.
Instead, regularly check your skin, including those areas you rarely expose to the sun. Make sure you have good lighting and ask someone (or use mirrors) to check those areas of your skin that you can’t see.
By getting to know what looks normal for you, you’ll quickly notice if a spot changes or a new spot appears.
3. What am I looking for?
Almost all of us have freckles, moles and skin blemishes of some sort. But signs these spots have turned cancerous include changes in shape, colour or size. Skin cancers can also appear as a new spot.
There are three main types of skin cancer, each with their own particular signs:
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common and least dangerous form. It appears as a lump or a dry, scaly area; is red, pale or pearly in colour; and can ulcerate as it grows or appear as a sore that fails to heal completely.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is less common, but can spread to other parts of the body if it’s left untreated. It can be a thickened, red, scaly spot that bleeds easily, crusts and ulcerates.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer because it can quickly spread fast to other parts of the body. Signs of melanoma includes spots that are asymmetrical; have an uneven, smudgy border; blotchy colour that can include brown, black, blue, grey or red; and can be larger than 7mm.
Nodular melanoma is a particularly aggressive form of melanoma that doesn’t fit the usual criteria – it is often red, pink, brown or black and feels firm to the touch.
4. Where should I seek help?
If you pick up anything unusual on your skin, it’s important to get it looked at as soon as you can for peace of mind. The earlier skin cancer is found, the more successful the treatment is likely to be.
It’s best to see your doctor in the first instance. Your doctor will check your skin and provide you with advice on the most appropriate next steps. They may even remove the spot or take a small sample for testing.
Your doctor may also refer you to a dermatologist. Dermatologists are doctors who have specialised training in diagnosing and treating skin diseases, including skin cancer. You can also ask your doctor for a referral for a second opinion.
If you are seeing a dermatologist, keep the following in mind:
You should ask for a referral from a doctor.
Ask what fees may be charged and what proportion of these fees are covered by Medicare.
There may be a long waiting list. However, if your spot is particularly concerning, your doctor should organise an early appointment.
If you live in regional Victoria, note that many areas have visiting dermatologists. Your doctor should be able to advise you.
Almost all cases of melanoma require specialist care. If your doctor suspects a melanoma, they may refer you to a local surgeon, or a specialist melanoma centre.
5. What’s a skin cancer clinic?
Some people may attend a skin cancer clinic, rather than visit a doctor. Skin clinics are usually operated by doctors and research shows skin clinics may not necessarily offer a higher level of expertise than your doctor.
Before deciding whether to go to a skin clinic, always find out about the services they offer and the expertise of the employees. Check out SunSmart’s Consumer guide to skin clinics for a list of questions to ask about qualifications, costs, diagnosis and other information.
6. If I’ve had skin cancer, is it worth bothering with sun protection?
Here’s the good news – it’s never too late to increase your sun protection and cut your cancer risk! By protecting your skin during peak UV times, you will reduce your risk of future skin cancers at any age, whether you are 16 or 60. Check out the SunSmart app to find out when you do and don’t need sun protection. People who work outdoors should use sun protection all year round, because of their increased skin cancer risk.
For more information about skin cancer and sun protection visit sunsmart.com.au or contact Cancer Council’s Information and Support on 13 11 20.
SunSmart is all about promoting sun protection and skin cancer prevention messages. From the original 'Slip, Slop, Slap' campaign in the 1980s to today's 'UV. It All Adds Up' messages, they are one of the oldest and most successful skin cancer prevention programs in the world.