Regional Victorian doctors are encouraging their communities to check their skin for changes this winter and visit their GP as soon as possible if they notice anything unusual.
Working in the Castlemaine and Bendigo regions across the last 16 years, Dr Sheriden Emonson says one of the invisible knock-on health effects of the pandemic is the delay in people getting their skin checked.
According to the Victorian Cancer Registry, there was a 12% decline in melanoma diagnoses in 2020 which was attributed to a likely decrease in skin checks during lockdowns.
Cancer Council Victoria and SunSmart agree that the effects of late diagnoses could lead to higher melanoma rates and more people losing their life to skin cancer.
As the fifth most common cancer in Victoria, the most aggressive forms of melanoma can become life-threatening within a matter of months.
Dr Emonson says before the coronavirus pandemic many patients would regularly come in for skin checks, but this changed when the pandemic started.
“People didn’t make their usual appointments and those that may have noticed a new or changing spot avoided seeking out medical advice on it,” Dr Emonson said.
Dr Emonson recently participated in a practical training day as part of Cancer Council Victoria’s Dermoscopy for Victorian General Practice Program and said the hands-on training has helped her increase her skills to offer skin checks for her local patients.
Dermoscopy is an area of expertise that GPs can learn which allows them – with appropriate training – to comprehensively check the skin for signs of melanoma and other skin cancers and recommend and perform follow up treatment if required.
As well as getting to know your skin, it is important that everyone in Victoria uses sun protection during sun protection times and knows their personal risk of skin cancer. For Dr Emonson, she knows her skin complexion means she needs to be even more careful when it comes to being outdoors.
“Growing up with red hair and fair skin, which are both risk factors for skin cancer, I learned the importance of sun protection from a young age.
“As a person with a higher risk of skin cancer, knowing my skin and getting regular skin checks have always been an important part of my life, and I’d like to see it on the to-do lists of high-risk regional Victorians,” Dr Emonson said.
Acting Head of SunSmart, Justine Osborne said it is fantastic to see doctors like Sheriden Emonson completing the Dermoscopy for Victorian General Practice Program training so we can find skin cancer early.
“Our doctors and GPs are incredibly important in supporting our communities to protect themselves against skin cancer and can offer such a wide range of advice”, Ms Osborne said.
“The best way to ensure skin cancer is found early is to get to know your skin and what’s normal for you.
“While we’re constantly rugged up during winter, it’s important to regularly check your skin. Any changes including new spots, or changes in shape, colour or size of an existing spot should be checked by your GP,” Ms Osborne said.
If you would like to learn more about how to check your skin or SunSmart sun protection advice visit www.sunsmart.com.au.