HEALTH

How To Check Your Moles For Signs Of Melanoma

On average, 30 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma every day.

10/10/2017 3:56 PM AEDT | Updated 10/10/2017 4:00 PM AEDT
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Check your moles regularly.

Australians are well known for our love of the beach and other outdoorsy activities, but all that time spent in the sun doesn't come without some associated risks.

Sadly, Australia has the highest incidence of melanoma in the world. On average, 30 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma every day and more than 1,200 will die from the disease each year.

This is in spite of the fact it's largely preventable if the right precautions are taken, one of which being knowing how to identify early signs such as the appearance of a new spot or a change in appearance in an existing mole or freckle.

As outlined by the Melanoma Institute Australia, "the change may be in size, shape or colour and is normally noticed over several weeks or months".

So where to start?

Firstly, get acquainted with your skin type and any markings you already have.

"It's really important to know the skin you're in," Carole Renouf, CEO of the Melanoma Institute Australia told HuffPost Australia.

"It's about recognising if you do have a lot of moles and freckles, you are more at risk. Also if you have fair Celtic skin colouring.

"It doesn't mean if you're olive skinned like me you're not at risk, but you are more at risk if you are fair."

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Fair skinned people are more at risk.

Renouf estimates over 90 percent of melanoma cases are treated easily with surgery if it's caught early, meaning it's very important to regularly check your moles. And don't just check areas that are typically exposed to sun (so yes, the soles of your feet and private parts included).

"​​​​Anecdotally, a lot of melanomas and other types of skin cancer are actually picked up by the person themselves or a loved one," she said.

"The main thing is to be very familiar with your own skin and to notice any types of changes. Things to watch out for include a change in colour, a change in size, a change in asymmetry or a change in the border of a mole or freckle.

"Also watch out for any kind of itching or bleeding or any kind of lumps under the skin. So that's actually an important point -- there might not be anything [visible] on the skin -- but there can be a lump in groin or arm pit.

"If you see anything like that at all, go to a GP or dermatologist for further checking."

Melanoma Institute Australia

According to an Australian study released on Monday, it's also advisable to look for elevated, firm and growing criteria (bringing the acronym to the lengthy but memorable ABCDEFG) to help identify atypical melanomas.

"Because thick, life-threatening melanomas may lack the more classical ABCD (asymmetry, border irregularity, colour variegation, diameter of above 6mm) features of melanoma, a thorough history of the lesion with regard to change in morphology and growth over time is essential," the study's authors wrote.

"Any lesion that is changing in morphology or growing over a period of more than one month should be excised or referred for prompt expert opinion.

"Melanomas are generally distinguished from benign lesions by their history of change... Therefore, careful history taking is important, and any lesion that continues to grow or change in size, shape, colour or elevation over a period of more than one month should have a biopsy taken and be assessed histologically or referred for expert opinion."

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Slip, slop, slap.

Of course, decreasing your chances of skin cancer starts well before the process of checking your moles and freckles, going right back to the times you spent time in the sun in the first place.

"The recommendation now is to use SPF 50 and to apply at least every two hours and obviously more often if you go into the water," Renouf said.

"And something that many people don't realise is sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before you go into the sun. You always see people slathering it on at the beach, but they really should have applied it at least 20 minutes prior."

Renouf also recommends wearing broad-rimmed hats (baseball caps don't count) and staying out of the sun altogether between the hours of 11am to 3pm.

Finally, it's crucially important to employ sun safety practices with little ones to prevent them from getting sunburned.

"The latest research shows that in fact it is the intense intermittent UV radiation leading to sunburn that is the thing that most increased your risk of melanoma, especially before puberty," Renouf said.

"For young families, that's a really important message. It's getting the sunburn before puberty which can lead to seeing the melanoma occur decades later.

"People used to think it was due to a lifelong accumulation of overexposure but it is the sunburn and it is particularly when they're young."

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