Thanks to the pandemic, GPs have seen a massive reduction in the number of Melburnians requesting preventative health checks over the past couple of years, including for skin cancer screening.
Figures being thrown around point to a 50-60% reduction in skin cancer diagnosis and referrals to dermatologists in Victoria. As a doctor, I find this is quite alarming, especially when considering Australia has one of the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
Understandably, many patients chose to limit their public exposure by opting for telehealth appointments rather than face to face consults. Even when telehealth is done over video, conducting a proper skin check is near impossible.
Below, I’ve summarised some facts regarding skin cancer. My hope is that more people will visit their GP in person for skin checks – especially now we’re all vaccinated and practised in protecting ourselves and others from COVID.
|Quick Facts on Skin Cancer in Australia|
- Over 400,000 people are diagnosed each year with non-melanoma skin cancers.
- Around 17,000 people are diagnosed with melanoma each year, most of whom are men.
- Melanomas made up an estimated 11.2% of all new cancers diagnosed in 2021.
- More than all transport accidents, approximately 1,300 Australians die from skin cancer each year.
- We can successfully remove 90% of melanomas if caught early.
- Melanoma detection rates in young people are thankfully falling.
The What, How, and When of Skin Checks
Catching skin cancer early is vital. Early detection and what to look out for vary between the different types of skin cancers. The most common are basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and at a distant third, melanomas.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
A BCC is a form of non-melanoma skin cancer. They may appear as a slightly glossy spot or lump, a scaly or dry shiny area that’s pale or bright pink, a brown scar-like lesion, or a sore that bleeds, scabs over, heals, and returns.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCCs are also non-melanoma skin cancers. They may look like thick, red, and scaly spots that don’t heal. The lesions are often sore.
These dangerous skin cancers may look like asymmetrical spots with darker speckles, moles that change in size, colour or texture, or painful lesions that itch or burn.
An excellent tip to remember is the ABCDEs of melanoma identification when you come across a suspect spot.
- Asymmetrical – Is the shape of one side of the spot different to the other?
- Border – Are the outer edges of the spot uneven?
- Colour – Does the spot appear to have more than one colour?
- Diameter – Is the spot getting bigger?
- Evolution – Is the spot changing in elevation, soreness, shape, or colour over time?
Please keep in mind that this is just a guide. The spot in question can still be skin cancer without any or all ABCDEs. If in doubt, get checked by your GP.
How to Examine Your Skin
I recommend you self-examine your skin frequently. This way, you’re more likely to notice irregularities and if new spots appear or existing freckles or moles change.
There’s no need to get too obsessed with it all; just have a good look in a full-length mirror at the start of each new season. If you’re in one of the following high-risk categories, you may want to check your skin more often:
- People with fair complexion, light coloured eyes and hair.
- A family or personal history of skin cancers.
- Lots of moles on your body.
- Those with a weakened or suppressed immune system.
It’s a good idea to have a family member occasionally check your neck, back, and scalp. If no one is around, grab a hand mirror. You should also examine your buttocks, between your toes, the soles of your feet, palms, underarms, and under your nails.
Remember; the most common cancers are BCCs and SCCs, which appear where the sun shines – your face, ears, forearms, and calves.
Don’t freak out if you find something a bit suss. Most skin cancers are treatable if discovered early. Come in and we can check it out for you.
When to Pay a Visit to Your GP
Broadly, there are two reasons to see your doctor. The first is if you find something you’re unsure of while examining your skin.
Your GP may assess the problem area using specialised equipment, such as a dermascope. This magnifying instrument allows your doctor to view any questionable spots up close to help determine if the shape, border, and colour are consistent with typical skin cancers.
The second reason to visit your GP is if you’re in one of the high-risk groups. If this is the case with you or someone in your care, you’ll probably already have scheduled rolling 1-3 yearly skin checks.
Regular, in-clinic skin checks allow the consulting doctor to track changes in your skin over time, giving you the best chance of early diagnosis and treatment.
How We Can Help
For most people, a visit to your GP is a great place to start when it comes to your skin health.
Like myself, many doctors have a special interest in skincare. We’re experienced in identifying potential skin cancers, taking biopsies, and even removing lesions under local anaesthetic or freezing them off through cryosurgery using liquid nitrogen.
We may refer you to a specialist dermatologist or plastic surgeon for more involved procedures or complicated diagnoses.