Diet & Nutrition

Spots, moles and freckles: How to spot skin cancer

It might be winter right now but doctors are still warning people to keep an eye on their skin.

By Deirdre Fogarty
Australia has one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world; our rates are two and even three times that of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
This means that, by the age of 70, two thirds of Australians will have been diagnosed with some form of the disease.
As its occurrence continues to grow, it is important to understand what exactly skin cancer is, how to spot it and what you can do to prevent it.
There are three types of skin cancer; Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which are also referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers, are the most common.
It is estimated that every year, nearly half a million Australians are treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers.
The third type of skin cancer, melanoma, is the most dangerous.
It often appears as a new mole, or an existing mole that has changed in appearance.
Keep an eye out for:
  • Shape. Melanomas tend to have irregular shapes and uneven borders, and can be thicker than other moles.
  • Colour. Moles that are unusual or uneven in colour are worth noting to your doctor.
  • Size. Any mole larger than seven millimetres, or which appears to be growing, may be a sign of skin cancer.
Melanoma can also appear as crusty, non-healing sores and may itch or bleed. They occur most often on the face, back, arms and legs.
Early detection is key; it’s important to get familiar with the look of your skin and to consult your doctor if anything seems different or odd.
Since skin cancers develop when skin cells have been damaged by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, it’s also important to protect yourself on a daily basis.
Look for sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, and make sure you’re applying it correctly.
You’ll need at least a teaspoon for each limb, front and back of the body, and to put it on 20 minutes before you go outside. After that, reapply every two hours.
Cover up in sun-protective clothing and hats, and double check that your sunglasses meet Australian standards.
The best method of prevention, however, is to avoid the sun where possible, especially during the middle of the day, when UV levels are most intense.
If in doubt, talk to your doctor about your level of risk, and for further advice.

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