Checking Your Moles: What To Look For (And Why To Do It Now)

31/03/2016 8:31 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Young woman lookimg at birthmark on her back, skin. Checking benign moles

For the most part, we Aussies are a bunch of sun lovers. And while many of us have had the importance of 'slip, slop, slap' drilled into us from a young age, it doesn't always mean we can get away with our outdoorsy lifestyle scot-free, particularly when it comes to our skin.

In short, it's extremely important to regularly check our skin for signs of any changes, and now we are about to head into the cooler seasons and essentially dive into our woollies for a couple of months, the timing couldn't be better.

"Early detection of skin cancers is critically important -- especially for melanoma -- so they can get treated," Chair of the Skin Cancer Committee for Cancer Council Australia, Craig Sinclair, told The Huffington Post Australia.

"Melanoma kills over 1500 Australians each year, and we do know that it can grow [quite quickly]. Sometimes it can be a matter of months between someone first noticing it to the point where it has metastasised and has become very difficult to treat.

"If caught earlier, it's much easier to treat and the chance of survival is very good. However, when the melanoma has spread and metastasised into the blood stream and lymph system, then it can be potentially deadly and very, very difficult to treat."

In terms of what exactly to look for, Sinclair says basically any sign of changes to moles or spots would warrant a visit to your local GP.

"Our job is to be well aware of our skin and look out for any spots changing shape, colour or size. If a mole is growing or it’s changing in shape, or it appears to be a different colour, then it is really important to go to your GP," Sinclair said.

"I think there can be the misconception that people need to see a specialist straight away. In fact, your local family GP is well equipped to look at these spots and to investigate if there’s a concern or to treat immediately if easy to do so.

"There are lots of different types of melanomas and different types of common skin cancers which I won't go into now, but really all we need to worry about is making sure we know our body well and are aware of anything intrinsically changing shape, colour or size."

skin check

In terms of why now is such a good time to get checking (though of course, regular checks are encouraged), it's quite simply because cooler weather = more clothes, which means less chance of friends or family members spotting any potentially troublesome moles.

"Obviously it's a lot easier to check your skin in the summer months when you do have less clothing and your skin is more exposed, as people are more likely to notice any changes," Sinclair said.

"But in the middle of winter, we tend to be hibernating with a lot more clothes on. Though we shouldn't stop looking, we’re less likely to notice any changes quite simply because they are covered up. Also it's less likely other people will notice.

"I am always amazed to hear stories of melanoma survivors, who had a friend or loved one who pointed out something didn't look right. While we as individuals are pretty good at detecting if something is not feeling right, often friends or family members have an active role, particularly on those parts that are difficult to see."

Sinclair also urges Aussies to continue using sun protection, regardless of decreasing temperatures.

"I just want to reinforce the importance of prevention. It makes the world of difference if you can detect [skin cancers] early," Sinclair said.

"My best advice is to continue to choose sun protection whenever there is a UV index greater than three. So, for Queensland, that's all year around. For Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, it's until about the end of April, and for New South Wales it's really up to the end of May.

"The best thing is not to be guided by temperature but by the UV forecast. SunSmart actually has this fantastic app which provides the UV levels for the day and when sun protection is required, in something like 200 locations around the country.

"But once again -- just because it's getting cooler, it doesn't mean you can throw sun protection out the window. Don’t be fooled by temperature, it’s not related to UV."

Find out more about how to check your skin and what to look for here.



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