How to Prevent Skin Cancer

woman sits facing backward on green grass writing sunbathing in sunny sky
The Author
Helena Popovic

The moral of this proverb is to attend to our own issues rather than criticising others. However, I’m using it in the literal sense that we can actually heal ourselves. We can all be our own physicians if we learn to trust ourselves. This doesn’t mean not enlisting the help of trained health professionals when needed. But my theme for 2018 is to focus on the many things we can do for ourselves to move our lives in the direction of better mental, physical and emotional health. There is ALWAYS something we can do to improve a situation, no matter how small the step may seem. The person who moves mountains begins by carrying away small stones.

To that end, I was struck by a recent news headline: January 2018 saw record numbers of Australians presenting to hospitals with sunburn. Over 95% of skin cancers are caused by excessive cumulative UV exposure over a lifetime, and Australia has the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. That’s the bad news.

The good news is that skin cancer is curable if detected early enough. There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and melanoma. The most deadly is melanoma so doctors have developed the ABCDE melanoma detection system to alert you to its telltale signs.

A stands for Asymmetry. That means look for spots where if you draw a line down the middle, the two sides won’t match up.

B is for Border. Look for spots with an irregular border or freckles and moles that develop what look like baby spots growing out from them.

C is for Colour. The more different colours within the one spot—black, blue, red, grey or even white – and the more blotchy, the more suspicious you need to be.

D stands for Diameter and Difference. Look for spots that are getting bigger or that look a bit different from all your other moles or freckles. In other words, look for the odd one out.

E stands for Evolving i.e. a spot that is changing in any way from the last time you saw it. For example: getting bigger, having babies (satellite spots), or a mole or freckle that starts to itch, tingle, bleed or weep.

Skin cancers are rarely painful (unless they’re very advanced) so you need to look and feel for changes in existing lumps and bumps on your skin or the appearance of new ones. A self-examination once every three months would be ideal.

You can get very good at knowing your own skin and what’s normal for you because the key to detecting skin cancer is noticing changes. Lack of confidence is what stops most people examining their own skin because they think ‘How do I know what’s just a harmless mole and what’s cancer?’ Let ABCDE guide you.

The way to do an adequate check is to take all your clothes off, make sure you have good light, and systematically check every part of your body including the soles of your feet, between your fingers and toes, and under your nails. Where you can’t check—like your back or scalp—use a mirror or ask your partner or family member to look for you and keep a record of what they report.

If you find anything at all that concerns you, immediately make an appointment with your GP or a designated skin cancer clinic and get it checked. If all is well, book an annual visit for peace of mind and you’ll be able to enjoy the sun while Slip Slop Slap Seek and Sliding*.

*Slip on sun protective clothing
*Slop on SPF30 or higher broad spectrum water resistant sunscreen
*Slap on a broad-rimmed hat
*Seek shade
*Slide on sunglasses

1 thought on “How to Prevent Skin Cancer”

  1. Sierra Fairfull
    Sierra Fairfull

    Something that is so important in a country like Australia! I like the ABCDE acronym. Thank you for the self-care reminder!

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