Now’s The Time For Skin Cancer Awareness

Applying sunscreen

Did you know that there’s a particular type of cancer that has a 90% chance of being cured IF caught early?

It’s the same cancer that sadly kills one Australian every six hours.

The survival rate falls to 74% when this disease reaches the lymph nodes, and just 35% when it reaches distant organs.

It’s also one that’s largely preventable.

It’s of course, melanoma.

Melanoma in brief

Often referred to as “the most serious skin cancer”, melanoma has a tendency to spread to other parts of the body like vital organs.

Melanoma can develop within a mole that you already have on your skin or appear suddenly as a spot that looks different from the rest.

It develops from melanocytes, the cells that produce melanin (responsible for skin pigmentation), resulting in often serious health consequences if not treated early.

The disease typically starts on the skin in areas with high sun exposure like the face and arms, but can occur in the eyes, fingernails and other less exposed areas too.

As per the Cancer Council, adults who develop new spots or moles should have them examined by their doctor.

Melanoma March is another organisation that shines a spotlight on melanoma by raising awareness around the disease. See how you might be able to march towards a melanoma-free future here.

Long hours of harsh sun and an outdoors lifestyle highlight the need for focus on melanoma

Australia’s coastal areas, especially those in the north of the country, like here in Queensland, are at higher risk of developing the disease.

This is because of our outdoors lifestyle and harsh sun over long summers.

As such, the health professionals at Mooney Street Medical are big advocates for skin checks and skin care and allowing our community to do what they do best, live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.

The risks and signs of melanoma

People at a higher risk of developing melanoma may have:

High Sun Exposure
(Inc. tanning beds). UV exposure is a major risk factor. Intense, intermittent exposure that leads to sunburns, especially in childhood, increases the risk.

Employment that demands long hours in the sun, like roof and solar installers, gardeners and some other tradies can also be at a higher risk.

Family History
A family history of melanoma increases your risk. If a close relative (parent, brother or sister) has had melanoma, your risk is higher.

A Large Number of Moles
Especially atypical ones.

Risks increase with age, with most cases occurring in those over 50.

Certain Medical Conditions
Certain medical conditions or genetic syndromes as well as some medications that suppress the immune system, such as those used after organ transplantation, may increase the risk of melanoma.

A weakened immune system can also be a high risk factor.

Skin Type
People with fair skin, light hair, and blue or green eyes are at higher risk because they have less melanin, which provides some protection against UV radiation.

However, having darker skin or higher levels of melanin most definitely does not mean you’re safe against melanoma.

The disease can affect all skin types.

The signs melanoma could be developing

In many cases, there are no signs until you notice changes in existing moles or skin spots or new ones, typically sudden or fast appearing ones.

Some signs to look for are:

Changes in Moles
If they change colour, size, shape, or feel, that’s something to watch out for.

If you draw an imaginary line through a mole, and the two halves clearly don’t match up, it might be a sign.

Irregular Borders
Healthy moles usually have smooth, even edges. If the edges are jagged, blurry, or uneven, it could be a warning sign.

Different Colours
Check for moles that have different colours or shades within them, like black, brown, red, white, or a blueish colour.

Large Size
Moles that are bigger than the eraser on a pencil (about 6 millimetres or more) could be concerning.

Change in Sensation
If a mole starts to itch, hurt, or feel tender without any obvious reason, it’s worth getting it checked out.

Any mole or spot on your skin that changes over time, whether it’s in size, shape, colour, or sensation, should be checked by a doctor.

New Spots
Keep an eye out for any new moles or spots on your skin, especially if they appear after the age of 21.

Checking for the signs of melanoma at home

Keeping an eye on your skin is a great chance to notice anything suspicious. The “ABCDEFG” test is a good starting point:

  • A – Asymmetry – Melanoma is often asymmetrical, check the shape isn’t uniform.
  • B – Border – Check mole borders that aren’t well defined or are irregular in shape.
  • C – Colour – Melanoma lesions are often more than one colour or shade.
  • D – Diameter – Check for moles larger than 6mm in diameter.
  • E – Evolution – Melanoma will often change characteristics, such as size, shape or colour over time.

If you notice any of the ABCDEs of melanoma, make an appointment right away so your skin can be evaluated by a professional.

Checks at home can only go so far

While checking your skin regularly at home is a great advantage you can give yourself, it’s not foolproof.

It’s easy to miss subtle changes or areas that are hard to see, especially on your back or scalp.

Sometimes, melanomas can develop in places you wouldn’t expect or check often.

👉 Checking your own skin should be in addition to professional skin checks, not instead of.

Helping prevent melanoma

There are a few steps you can take to help prevent the development of melanoma and reduce the risks.

In short; be healthy, protect your skin and keep up with skin checks.

In more detail:

Be Healthy
A strong immune system and good overall health gives your body more chance of protecting against melanoma and more chance of fighting it.

This includes a proper diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep and low stress levels. No smoking or vaping and alcohol in low moderation are also no-brainers when it comes to good health.

When it comes to the prevention of disease and illness, being healthy is one of the best advantages you can give yourself.

Skin protection
Skin protection means shielding your skin from the sun’s harmful rays to prevent sunburn, premature ageing, and skin cancer like melanoma.

You can protect your skin by wearing sunscreen with SPF 30+, higher is even better, covering up with clothing like hats and long sleeves, and keeping in the shade during peak sunlight hours.

On the topic of sunscreen, make sure you apply it as directed on the label. If applied incorrectly or wiped off by sweat, water or brushing against things, you can reduce the protection it offers, sometimes considerably.

Skin checks
Skin checks allow doctors to go over your skin with a fine-toothed comb and a professional eye.

This means they can confirm or (hopefully) rule out anything suspicious on your skin.

Also, you can ask your doctor about any spots you may have noticed and, if needed, get advice on treatment options.

Why skin checks are so important

As we mentioned in the opening paragraph, melanoma is a particular type of cancer that has a 90% chance of being cured IF caught early.

If not, that percentage can drop to just 35% when the disease reaches distant organs.

Catching melanoma early is crucial because it’s highly treatable in its early stages, but it can become far more dangerous if it spreads.

Early detection allows for simpler, faster and more effective treatment options, potentially saving lives and reducing the need for extensive medical intervention.

When skin checks are recommended

In general, we recommend a skin check once every 12 months, but this can vary depending on your sun exposure, skin health and status, and whether you notice anything yourself.

The end of summer is a great time for skin checks.

Most people have spent considerable time in the sun over the past few months, and by Marchm, April and even May, your skin has likely had time to show any signs.

Ensure your skin isn’t hiding anything dangerous, and if it is, give yourself the best chance of treatment by getting a skin check today.

Book your skin check