Checking for skin cancer

How to check for skin cancer

Skin cancer found early can be usually be successfully treated. However if left untreated, skin cancer can be fatal.

It's important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you so changes will be quickly noticed. Skin cancer is often visible (but rarely painful) making it easier to detect in the early stages. Don't just rely on an annual skin check to detect any suspicious spots.

All Australians should become familiar with their skin. Check all of your skin, not just sun-exposed areas. If you notice anything unusual, including any change in shape, colour or size of a spot, or the development of a spot, visit your doctor as soon as possible.

A mole or melanoma?

Almost all of us have moles. Moles are not normally present at birth, but appear in childhood and early teenage years. By the age of 15, Australian children have an average of more than 50 moles.

Normal moles usually look alike. See your doctor if a mole looks different or if a new mole appears after the age of 25. The more moles you have, the higher your risk of melanoma.

Skin spots to watch or see a doctor about

Warning signs of sun damaged skin and skin cancer risk

Here are some spots, blemishes, freckles and moles . If you see these it may mean you have sun damaged skin or they may be a sign that you are prone to skin cancer.

If you notice them changing, see a doctor.

Skin spots to see a doctor about

See a doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything that looks like one of these, especially melanoma and nodular melanoma . Melanoma can grow very quickly. It can become life-threatening in as little as six weeks.

There is a lot of variation in how skin cancers look; your skin spots may vary from the examples shown.

Self examination

Many melanomas are discovered by people themselves or by a family member.

Cancer Council recommends  all adults, particularly those aged 40 and over, should:

  • become familiar with their skin
  • check all areas of their skin, including skin not normally exposed to the sun
  • look for changes in shape, colour or size, or a new spot – if you notice anything unusual, see your doctor straight away
  • seek assistance from others to check difficult to see areas, such as their back.

Tips for checking your own skin

It's time to go through a do-it-yourself skin examination: first find a room with good light and a full length mirror. If you are on your own have a hand-held mirror to check difficult to see areas. Undress completely and start examining your skin, body part-by-body part, until you have checked your whole body.

Watch the video below for a step by step approach to a self-examination.

Video supplied courtesy of Leo Pharma.

Skin cancer clinics

Cancer Council Victoria recommends you become familiar with your skin. Get to know your skin and how it normally looks. Be alert to new or changing moles, freckles and spots. If you notice anything unusual, see your doctor straight away.

If you don't have a regular doctor, you can make an appointment with any doctor for a skin examination.

If you are considering using a skin cancer clinic, first find out about the services offered and expertise of the staff.

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A handy picture guide to skin cancers, warning signs and harmless spots.
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