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Do you have a family or personal history of skin cancer?
If you have had skin cancer in the past, you are in the high-risk category and are likely to develop the disease again. For example, if you have recently been treated for a basal cell carcinoma, you are twice as likely to develop a melanoma and have a 40 percent chance of developing another basal cell carcinoma within three years.
For this reason, it is important to take extra steps to protect yourself. Early detection is critical to successfully treating and surviving skin cancer, so regular skin checks are essential for catching the next one before it does serious damage. Your doctor will advise how regularly you should come in for a skin check, and this will vary from every couple of months to once a year.
It is not easy to learn you have skin cancer. Most people automatically think the worst, but the good news is that most skin cancers are curable if detected early. Try to keep calm and find out more about your diagnosis. Ask your doctor:
1. What type of skin cancer is it?
The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. They vary in aggressiveness and will be treated with different methods. Learn more about different treatment options here.
2. How deep is the skin cancer?
Most superficial cancers (only affecting the top layer of skin) can be cured and may require a non-surgical treatment. Deeper cancers are treated in a variety of ways, from superficial to multi-stage surgery. If you have been diagnosed with a fast-growing melanoma, the most important first step is to have it removed as soon as possible.
Our team will answer any questions you may have and will assist you through every stage of your journey from diagnosis to treatment and surgery after-care. Learn more about our services here.
Are you aged 40 or over?
Over 90 percent of people diagnosed with melanoma are older than 40. However, skin cancer effects people of all ages. In fact, melanoma is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 39. It is estimated that 2,500 Australians aged 25-49 will be diagnosed with the disease this year.
Have you had multiple sunburns that resulted in blistering or peeling?
If you have had multiple sunburns that blistered or peeled, your risk of developing skin cancer doubles. Men are at a greater risk of getting the disease, with one in 14 men and one in 24 women expected to develop melanoma sometime in their life.
Do you have pale skin, fair hair or blue eyes?
Due to lack of skin pigmentation, Caucasian populations are at high risk of getting skin cancer. If you have fair skin, blue eyes, or light or red hair, you are in the highest risk group. However, skin cancer effects people of all ethnicities, no matter their skin colour.
Do you have a large number of freckles or moles on your body?
You have an increased risk of melanoma if there are multiple freckles or moles on your skin. It is important to get your skin checked frequently by your doctor, since early detection offers the best survival rate. Five Australians die every day from melanoma.
Has anyone in your family had melanoma?
While most skin cancers result from sun exposure, some melanomas develop due to an inherited gene. Your risk may be higher if someone in your family has had melanoma.
Have you had a melanoma or another type of skin cancer before?
You are at higher risk of developing further skin cancers if you have had one previously. A history of skin cancer indicates that your skin might be prone to the disease, usually from excessive sun damage or due to a genetic disposition.
Do you have any skin spots that look different to the others?
A mole could be a melanoma if it is changing in size, shape or colour, or looks different to the others on your body. It is important to become familiar with your own skin and notice any sores that won’t heal, small red or white lumps, or new freckles that appear or change over weeks or months.
Do you work outdoors or frequently enjoy outdoor activities?
If you work outdoors, or are often outside, you are exposed to the sun’s UV light, which permanently damages your skin cells and causes irreversible harm that can lead to skin cancer. UV light is responsible for 90 percent of all skin cancers. In Australia, one in eight adults and one in five teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend.
Do you bleed easily, even with very little abrasion?
A sign of skin cancer is easy or persisting bleeding, even from small abrasions on your body. For example, a small scratch on your skin might bleed when you towel off after a shower, or you might have lingering bleeding from your face after shaving.
Have you used a solarium bed to tan your skin?
Studies have shown that using a solarium before the age of 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 59 percent, because the UV radiation emitted from solariums is six times stronger than the midday sun.
However, it is important to regularly self-assess your skin and get thorough head-to-toe skin checks by a skilled physician at least once a year. Skin cancer can affect anyone of any skin type and can occur anywhere on the body, often showing no symptoms until an advanced stage.
Answering ‘yes’ to at least one question means you are part of the high-risk group and it is possible that you will develop skin cancer in your life time. It is recommended that you see your doctor for regular check-ups at least once a year. The key to successful skin cancer treatment is early detection.
A head-to-toe skin check with a skilled doctor is the only way to know your skin is healthy. For your peace of mind continue to get regular check-ups at least once a year. Ninety-five percent of all skin cancers are curable if found early.
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