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Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, as an example, from overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

• Basal cell carcinoma

• Squamous cell carcinoma

• Melanoma – the most dangerous form of membrane cancer

Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are referred to as non-melanoma membrane cancer.

Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with membrane cancer from the time they are 70, with over 434,000 people treated for one or more non-melanoma membrane cancers in Australia annually. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with almost double the incidence in comparison with women.

Excluding non-melanoma skin cancer,* melanoma is the third most common cancer in Australian women and the fourth most common cancer in males, and the most common cancer in Australians aged 15-44 years. In 2012, 12,036 Australians were diagnosed with melanoma.

Each Year, in Australia:

• skin cancers account for around 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers

• between 95 and 99% of skin cancers are caused by exposure to sunlight

• GPs have more than 1 million patient consultations per year for skin cancer

• The incidence of skin cancer is among the greatest in the world, two to three times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK.

*Non-melanoma skin cancers are not notified to cancer registries.

Assess for signs of skin cancer

The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the case of a significant melanoma or other skin cancer, potential disfigurement or even death.

Additionally it is a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.

It’s important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so you notice any changes. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are a whole lot more often seen than felt.

Develop a routine habit of checking your skin for new spots and adjustments to existing freckles or moles.

The best way to check your skin

• Make sure you check your whole body as skin cancers can sometimes occur in areas of the body not exposed to sunlight, for example soles of the feet, between fingers and toes and under nails.

• Undress completely and ensure you have good light.

• Use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check it for you.

There are three main forms of skin cancer- melanoma (like nodular melanoma), basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Melanoma

• Most deadly form of skin cancer.

• If left untreated can spread to other parts of the body.

• Appears as a new spot or an existing place that changes in color, shape or size.

Can appear on skin not normally exposed to sunlight.

Nodular melanoma

• appears different from common melanomas. Raised and even in colour.

• Many are red or pink and some are black or brown.

• They are firm to touch and dome-shaped.

Basal cell carcinoma

• Most common, least dangerous type of skin cancer.

• Red, pale or pearly in colour, appears as a lump or dry, scaly area.

• May ulcerate or neglect to completely heal.

• Grows slowly, usually on areas that are often exposed to the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma

• Grows over some months, usually on areas often exposed to sunlight.

• More likely to occur in people over 50 years of age.

ABCD melanoma detection manual

A is for Asymmetry – Look for spots that lack symmetry. That is, if a line was drawn through the middle, the two sides wouldn’t match up.

B is for Border – A spot with a dispersing or irregular edge (notched).

C is for Colour – Blotchy spots with a number of colours like blue, black, red, white or grey.

D is for Diameter – Look for stains which are getting bigger.

These are a few changes to look out for when assessing your skin for signs of any cancer:

• An outline of a mole that becomes notched.

• A spot that changes color from brown to black or is diverse.

• A place that becomes raised or develops a bulge within it.

• The surface of a mole getting rough, scaly or ulcerated.

• Moles that bleed or weep.

• Spots that looks different from the others.

Mole or skin cancer?

Almost all people have moles. Moles aren’t normally present at birth, but appear in childhood and early teenage years. By age 15, Australian children have an average of more than 50 moles.

Normal moles usually look alike. See your doctor if a mole looks different or if a new mole appears after the age of 25. The more moles a person have, the greater the risk of melanoma.

• Uniform in form and even coloured. May be raised.

• The more moles or freckles you’ve got the higher your chance of skin cancer.

• May have irregular borders and a number of colors like brown and black.

• Observe moles carefully for any indication of change.

Although you may notice one or more skin changes, it does not necessarily mean that you have skin cancer however it is important that you visit your GP to get them investigated further. Your GP can discuss your skin cancer risk and advise you on your requirement for medical checks or self-examination.

It can be tricky to know whether something in your skin is a harmless mole or normal sun damage, or a sign of cancer. When in doubt, speak to your GP.

What’s my skin type?

Skin types that are more sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) radiation burn more quickly and therefore are at a greater risk of skin cancer.

All skin types can be ruined by too much UV radiation. Skin types that are more sensitive to UV radiation burn faster and therefore are at a greater risk of skin cancer.

People with naturally very dark skin (usually skin type V or VI) still should be careful in sunlight even though they may rarely, if ever, get sunburnt. The larger quantity of melanin in very dark skin provides natural protection against UV radiation. This means the possibility of skin cancer is reduced.

High levels of UV radiation have also been linked to harmful effects on the immune system.

Individuals with very dark skin don’t typically have to apply sunscreen (but this remains a personal decision) but they should wear sunglasses or hats to protect their eyes.

Vitamin D deficiency might be a greater health concern for individuals with naturally very dark skin, as it is more difficult for people with this skin type to make vitamin D. People with naturally darker skin may need up to three to six times more sun exposure to aid with their vitamin D levels.

Skin types

Type I

Tends to get freckles, red or fair hair, blue or green eyes.

Type II

usually burns, sometimes tans.

Type III

sometimes burns, usually tans. Tends to have brown eyes and hair.

Type IV

Rarely burns, often tans. Tends to have dark brown hair and eyes.

Type V

Dark brown skin. Rarely burns, tans profusely.

Type VI

Deeply pigmented, dark brown to black skin. Never burns.

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