Q&A with Australian Health Experts
How do I examine myself for melanoma?
Hi, my name is Mark McGovern. I am a qualified Cosmetic Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon. I have been in practice on the Sunshine Coast since ... View Profile
Any mole our discoloured spot on the skin that changes in any way should be examined by your GP as soon as possible. These changes can include any of the following: darkening of the spot, a change in size or shape of the spot, any bleeding from the area.
Jill Tomlinson MBBS(Hons), PG Dip Surg Anat, FRACS(Plast) is a fully qualified Australian plastic, reconstructive and hand surgeon. Jill graduated dux at University High School ... View Profile
The Australian Cancer Council recommends that 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.
You should have your skin checked at least once a year; if you are at high risk of skin cancer then checking your skin at least every 3 months is wise. This Body Map and the Sunsmart 5 steps for skin self-examination are very useful tools to help you perform a skin self-examination. You will also need a mirror, and many people find that doing a skin check with a close friend or family member makes it easier to see difficult areas (like behind your ears, and on your back). To help you know what you are looking for Sunsmart has produced a 2 page PDF guide to skin cancers, warning signs and harmless spots that can be viewed here: How to check for skin cancers. If you have any concerns about your skin always seek assistance from a qualified health professional. For skin lesions where there is doubt or uncertainty a biopsy is a reliable method of determining what treatment you need.
Brisbane Bayside Doctor with specific interests in Dermatology & skin cancer, medicine (MRCP), musculoskeletal (>1200 joint injections). With 7 years experience as a GP educator ... View Profile
Get being familiar with your own skin and look for changes in shape, colour or size, or a new spot. It's really important to understand that any chance is important because some malignant melanomas get lighter and not darker.
Those at higher risk of skin cancer should, as Dr Tomlinson says, have a regular skin examination, and this is advised in medical guidelines. A doctor trained in early diagnosis of skin cancer will be able to detect changes in skin lesions before a patient will be aware of such changes. The doctor will use a dermatoscope as a way of looking at skin lesions (this tool uses a special light source and magnifies the lesion up to 50 times). This is a skill that takes considerable time & training to become adept at. The key is to try to reduce rates of excisions or biopsies as well as increase early diagnosis of skin cancers.
So everybody needs to be familiar with their skin, those at low risk may wish to do this themselves. Determine your risk by knowing your “skin type” - low risk is defined as type 1 skin and age less than 25, or type 2 skin and age less than 45, or type 3 skin and age less than 65, or types 4 and 5 skin. Having said that, many doctors experienced in skin cancer checks will know of patients in whom they've diagnosed skin cancers in who don't fit this guideline, it's all a question of attitude to risk.
Above all, always use sunscreen.