Introduction to skin cancer
Skin cancers come in all different shapes and sizes. It can be a simple raised freckle, a painful, bleeding sore or even have no noticeable symptoms. Untreated skin cancer can travel to other parts of the body and become life threatening.
Being sun smart is essential for prevention whilst good surveillance, by seeing your GP, helps to ensure any skin cancers can be identified and treated early before they become a serious problem.
How to recognise skin cancer
Checking your skin at home to get familiar with the look of your skin will allow you to pick up changes such as:
- Crusty, non-healing sores
- Small lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour
- New spots, freckles or any moles changing in colour, thickness or shape over a period of weeks or months
We recommend contacting your doctor immediately if:
- · you notice any growing or changing moles or freckles
- · you have any painful/bleeding/fast growing lesions
Why incidences of skin cancer in Australia are so high
It’s unfortunate that most Australians have the wrong type of skin for their environment. Many of our ancestors come from much less sunny climates and we lack the protective pigment which makes us vulnerable to UV radiation from the sun.
Due to many factors, Australia also receives higher levels of UV radiation than those in the northern hemisphere.
In addition to the above, Australians love being outside, so we have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.
Prevention of skin cancer
95% of melanomas are caused by sunburn.
The Cancer Council recommends taking these measures when the UV index is 3 or above:
- Slip on some sun-protective clothing - that covers as much skin as possible
- Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF 50+ sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- Slap on a hat - that protects your face, head, neck and ears
- Seek shade
- Slide on some sunglasses - ensure they meet Australian standards.
The advice above is general and it should be noted that people who work or play outside everyday need to be very strict with their sun protection program.
How a skin check is performed
During your skin check, a doctor examines your entire body using a handheld microscope called a dermatoscope. This includes areas not usually exposed to sunlight. At South Coast Medical, we ask that you disrobe to your undergarments during the examination. There is always a blanket available for your comfort while you are on the treatment bed. We also advise not wearing any makeup or creams before the appointment.
How long a skin check takes
Skin checks can take anywhere between 10-30 minutes depending on the complexity of your skin. Based on the results, we will have a discussion with you about any treatments required to reduce your risk moving forward or to treat any skin cancers that may be present already.
Diagnosing skin cancer
Skin cancers can be diagnosed in several ways. Many skin cancers are very obvious and can be diagnosed by the naked eye or using the dermatoscope.
Some skin lesions need to be sampled (biopsied) in order to get an accurate diagnosis. The treatment will be based on the pathology results.
Melanomas are a special case. In almost all instances they require an excisional biopsy. This means we need to cut the mole out completely in order for the pathologist to give us the correct diagnosis. The subsequent surgical treatment depends on the pathologist report. This means melanomas always require two procedures and may require referral to a specialist surgeon depending on the type of melanoma and its location.
Treatment of skin cancer
Some early forms can be treated with a freezing technique (cryotherapy) or prescription creams.
Most cases require a straightforward excision, but some cancers may require more complicated procedures such as skin grafts or flaps (moving skin around to close the wound).
If the cancers are advanced or have spread, they may require a combination of more involved surgery, radiotherapy or even chemotherapy.
When to start getting skin checks and how often should I get one?
There is no golden rule about when to start skin checks. At South Coast Medical, we recommend starting in your early 20’s. Based on your lifestyle, family history, skin type and various other factors, we can tailor a surveillance program to suit you. It can range from once every 3-5 years if you fall in the low risk group to yearly or more often if required. You will get a reminder from us when your next skin check is due.
From the age of 40-50 years onwards, we recommend a yearly check and in some high-risk cases it may even be once ever 3-6 months.
If you have previously had a skin cancer, you should be checked by your doctor every year at the very least.
Parents who are concerned about any spots on their child/teenager are welcome to have them checked as well.
Regardless of your surveillance with us, you should check your skin at least every 3 months (preferably monthly) at home to familiarize yourself with you own skin. This will allow you to identify any changes in your skin and make prompt action to book an appointment with your GP.
Skin cancer checks and Medicare rebates
An initial skin check is a double appointment. Subsequent checks will depend on the complexity of your skin, but most will require a single appointment once your doctor is familiar with your skin.
Single appointment - $80 (rebate: $37.60),
- Pensioner/HCC holders - $75 (rebate: $37.60)
Double appointment - $145 (rebate: $72.80)
- Pensioner/HCC holders - $140 (rebate: $72.80)
Children under 16 are bulk billed.
Our key message as GPs about skin cancer
Skin cancer is entirely preventable and when diagnosed early is easily treatable. Cover up, stay sun smart and see us at South Coast Medical to learn about your risk and to treat any issues promptly.
Call us at South Coast Medical on 03 59862155 to get your skin checked today!