The vast majority are non-melanoma skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and basal cell carcinomas (BCC). These are relatively easy to treat and rarely spread to other parts of the body.
Thirty years of SunSmart campaigns have raised community awareness – and anxiety – about skin cancer. But while most people know early detection is best, there’s a lot of confusion about whether you need to undergo regular skin checks. (Paper Tiger on how to have a healthy holiday. Post continues after video.)
Breast, bowel and cervical cancer prevention programs recommend population-wide screening with mammograms, pap tests and stool tests. But this isn’t the case for skin cancer checks.
Current clinical guidelines recommend examining your own skin and asking your GP for a skin check if you notice anything suspicious.
This means familiarising yourself with your skin and looking for new moles, sores, lumps or lesions – or those that have changed size, shape or colour. (post continues after gallery.)
Australian guidelines favour self-detection and opportunistic screening over a population-wide program of regular skin checks because such a program would be incredibly costly and there is insufficient evidence that checking everybody would save lives. This is because:
- very few people die from non-melanoma skin cancer
- while advanced melanoma is deadly, the frequency of melanoma in the community does not justify a mass population screening program on economic grounds
- the instrument that would be used for mass screening (assessment by a general practitioner) is not sufficiently accurate – in other words, GPs may remove too many benign lesions and also fail to diagnose and remove the skin cancers.
What should you do if you find a suspicious spot?
If you find a suspicious spot on your skin, ask your GP for a skin check. Your family doctor knows you, your medical history, your family history and is your first point of call.
There are only three possible diagnoses your doctor can make for you skin lesion: clearly malignant, clearly benign and too close to call.
If your doctor is 100% sure the lesion is a skin cancer, they will arrange for it to be removed. Each GP knows the limits of their surgical skill and will refer you on to a dermatologist as necessary. If you’re particularly concerned about scarring, you can request a referral to a dermatologist or plastic surgeon.