Have Your Skin Checked This Summer
- What are the risk factors of skin cancer?
- How often should I get my skin checked?
- Who can check my skin?
- How is a skin check performed?
- What happens if a suspicious lesion is found?
- How much does a skin check cost?
Coming into the summer months, it is a good idea to have your skin checked for any suspicious lesions that may lead to skin cancer. There are three main skin cancers:
- Basal cell carcinoma: Approximately 80% of cases
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Approximately 15–20% of cases
- Melanomas: Less than 5% of cases.
While melanomas represent only a small percentage of diagnosed skin cancers, it is the cause of approximately 80% of skin cancer deaths.
Due to the relationship between skin cancers and exposure to ultraviolet light, protective measures should be taken to minimise exposure, such as wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses, and staying out of the sun between 10am and 2pm. Minimising exposure is particularly important in the prevention of melanoma, where there is evidence suggesting that sunscreen may not protect against melanoma.
People at increased risk of developing skin cancer include those with:
- Fair complexion, a tendency to burn rather than tan, or freckles;
- Family history of skin cancer;
- Age > 40;
- Male gender;
- High levels of UV exposure (e.g. working outdoors);
- Past exposure to arsenic;
- Suppressed immune system;
- Solarium users.
Ideally you should have any new lumps or spots looked at as soon as they appear. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommends people should check at least every three months for new or changing skin lesions. Regular checks are especially important if you are over the age of 40.
Skin lesions can be checked by your general practitioner (GP), a dermatologist (skin specialist), or at specialised clinics located Australia-wide, such as the Australian Skin Cancer Clinics or Molescan.
Initially the doctor may ask some questions related to your sun exposure and other skin cancer risk factors.
The skin check involves the qualified doctor looking over every surface of the skin, often under magnification. This may involve the use of computerised scanning techniques that allow magnification of the lesion and storage of the images, which can then be used for future comparisons. The doctor is interested in several characteristics of skin spots and lumps, including:
- Shape and/or symmetry;
- Border definition;
- Bleeding and/or ulceration;
- Change over time.
The cost of a skin check can vary depending on who performs it. Specialised clinics such as the Australian Skin Cancer Clinics and Molescan often directly bill Medicare, which means no out of pocket expense for you. GPs and dermatologists may bulk bill patients, but this varies from practice to practice and may be dependant on whether you have a pensioner and/or concession card. It is therefore worthwhile asking about any related fees when making the appointment to avoid any unexpected bills.
For more information on staying healthy in the New Year, including tips on diet, partying, exercise and general health, see Health in the New Year.
- Murtagh J. Murtagh's General Practice (4th edition). North Ryde, NSW: McGraw Hill Australia; 2007. [Book]
- Guidelines for preventative activities in general practice (7th edition) [online]. South Melbourne, VIC: Royal Australian College of General Practitioners; 1 May 2009 [cited 12 December 2009]. Available from: URL link
- Gallagher RP, Spinelli JJ, Lee TK. Tanning beds, sunlamps, and risk of cutaneous malignant melanoma. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2005;14(3):562-6. [Abstract | Full text]
|Modified: 1/12/2010||Created: 14/12/2009|
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Please be aware that we do not give advice on your individual medical condition,
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