23 November 2017
Skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, with approximately 95–99 per cent of skin cancers being caused by too much sun exposure. The reality is that more people in Australia will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70 than not. It’s important to become familiar with your skin so that any changes are noticed early, improving the treatment options available and survivability outcome. For those who work outdoors, or spend a lot of time outside, the risk of developing skin cancer is very high. Cancer Council SA recommends regular and thorough skin self-examinations, with the help of a partner and mirror, using the ABCDE method to guide your examination. You’ll have to fully undress in a well-lit room.
Know what to look for
Before you begin, familiarise yourself with visual examples of each type of spot, whether it’s a melanoma, another form of cancer (commonly basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma), or a non-cancerous spot (such as dysplastic naevi, solar keratoses, or seborrheic keratoses).
The important thing to keep in mind is looking out for the spots that look different from others around them—are they different in colour, shape or size, or have they changed recently?
Know where to look
It’s a common misconception that skin cancer only develops in areas of the body which are most exposed to UV, such as shoulders, neck, arms and face. While this may be true for non-melanoma skin cancers, melanoma can appear very quickly on any part of the body, even those not exposed to the sun. That is why regular, thorough checks are crucial to detect skin cancer in its early stages when treatment will be most effective.
At Cancer Council SA, we recommend that a skin self-examination be structured around the following steps:
In front of a mirror, study your whole face from a few angles, taking particular care to examine the nose, lips and ears.
The scalp is tricky to examine alone, so it is best to ask a partner or friend to help you with this one. Use your fingers or a comb to part hair and methodically inspect the entire area, not just your natural part and crown.
3. Neck and ears
With the aid of a hand-held mirror, look at the back of your neck and ears. Don’t forget to also check under your jaw. A partner can also lend a hand here.
Assess your torso with arms by your side, and then arms raised, from the front, back, left and right. If you aren’t able to view your back, then ask for assistance from a friend or partner.
5. Hands and fingers
We often forget to check our hands and fingers, because they’re in front of us all the time. Turn your hands over and look in between the fingers and even under the fingernails for any changes.
Examine your forearms, upper arms, underarms and elbows.
7. Legs and buttocks
Sit down and check the front and back of your thighs and lower legs using a hand-held mirror. Stand with your back to a full length mirror and examine your buttocks for spots.
Take a seat and cross one leg over the other. Closely examine your foot, toes and toenails.
While sitting, cross one leg over the other. Check the sole or bottom of your foot; you may prefer to use a hand-held mirror to do this. Repeat with the other foot.
After a few times, you’ll be able to perform a self-examination in approximately 15 minutes. If you notice a change or a new spot developing after completing your self-examination, we recommend contacting your trusted GP to schedule an appointment immediately.
So what are you waiting for? Put that reoccurring reminder in your diary now. It could save your life.
Community Education Coordinator