How to find skin cancer early?
Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. Almost half the people who live here all their lives will develop some form of skin cancer, and around 1600 people will die every year from the disease.
The good news is that most skin cancers can be cured if they are diagnosed and treated early. Everyone can benefit from getting to know their own skin. Although the risk of developing skin cancer increases with age, melanoma – the most dangerous form of skin cancer – also occurs in young people. In fact, melanoma is the most common cancer in people aged between 15 and 40.
What causes skin cancer?
Skin cancer develops when a cell in the skin goes through a series of changes that make it a cancer cell. Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight or from solariums causes most skin cancers.
Australia has very high levels of UV radiation (especially in summer) because we are close to the equator and have clear skies.
Your risk of developing skin cancer is related to the amount of UV radiation you are exposed to over your lifetime, particularly in childhood.
Did you know?
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer – more than 1200 people die from it each year in Australia.
The risk of developing any type of skin cancer increases with age, but melanoma also occurs in young people.
Men are more likely than women to develop melanoma and to die from it.
Common sites for melanoma are the lower legs for women and the trunk for men.
Skin cancer is almost totally preventable and most skin cancers – including melanoma – can be cured if treated early.
Types of Skin Cancer
There are three types of skin cancer:
- squamous cell carcinoma
- basal cell carcinoma
Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer but the most dangerous, as it can spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal if not caught early. The first sign of melanoma is usually a new spot, or an existing spot, freckle or mole that has changed in size, shape or colour. Melanomas can develop anywhere on the body, even areas that aren’t exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is not as dangerous as melanoma but can spread to other parts of the body if not treated. Spots on the lips or ears have the highest risk of spreading and should be seen by a doctor immediately.. SCCs usually develop on parts of the body that are often exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck and face, hands and arms. They often appear as a thickened, red and scaly spot that won’t heal.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common but least dangerous type of skin cancer, which often appears as a lump or scaly area that is red, pale or pearly in colour. BCCs grow slowly and are most commonly found on the ears, nose, face and neck.
Are you at risk?
Anyone can develop skin cancer, but some people are at higher risk then others.
You may be at higher risk if you:
- have a lot of moles
- have a close relative who has had melanoma
- are aged over 50 (particularly if you have had a lot of sun exposure or have been sunburnt in the past)
- have infrequent but intense exposure to the sun (eg, office workers who spend a lot of time in the sun on weekends or on holidays)
- have had skin cancer in the past
- have skin that is fair, burns easily, freckles and doesn’t tan easily
- have red or fair hair and blue or green eyes
- have a weak immune system (this could be due to taking certain drugs after an organ transplant or being HIV positive)