Early Detection of Skin Cancer

A skin cancer check performed by an experienced health professional is a proven way of detecting skin cancers earlier. But this type of check-up is only one part of the strategy of finding and treating skin cancers before they cause serious problems. We recommend that you remain aware of changes in your skin, and report any concerns.

It's also important to attend any follow-up appointments recommended by your skin cancer doctor (for example, repeat photography), since some early skin cancers can be detected by observing small changes over time.

Follow-Up after Your Skin Check

It’s possible for your doctor to miss a spot, or disregard a very early or subtle skin cancer without obvious features. To reduce the chance of this happening, you need to report any concerns as soon as possible, and make sure you attend for any follow-up appointments recommended by your doctor.

Did We Miss Anything?

Please let us know if you think we’ve missed a spot. Most of the time, the spot has been examined by the doctor, who thought it was harmless and made no comments about it. But if you have any concerns about missed spots, please let us know so we can make sure everything has been thoroughly checked.

We might be more likely to miss spots:

  • Under your hair. We do check your scalp, but if you have long hair, we can’t guarantee that we’ve seen every spot or mole there.
  • Under tattoos
  • Under nail polish or heavy make-up
  • In your eyes (This requires special equipment. If you are concerned, a GP can check, and many opticians offer eye examinations)
  • In your mouth or nose (We usually inspect the lips and outer nostrils since skin cancers are common on these areas.)
  • On the genitals (It’s rare for skin cancer to oc-cur on the genitals so this area is not routinely examined unless you ask us to do so.)

Please let your doctor know if any of these areas are a concern for you.

Your Next Appointment

If your doctor has noticed any atypical (non-standard) spots, and thinks there's a small chance they might be skin cancer, you may need to return to the clinic for a repeat examination and photos.

  • If there’s no change in the atypical lesion, it’s unlikely to be a skin cancer, and you’ve avoided an unnecessary biopsy procedure.
  • If the atypical spot is changing, it might be a sign of skin cancer.  Some early curable melanomas are detected this way, so you might need to have the spot removed and tested.

Follow-up examination and photos usually take place after three months. Avoid tanning and sun-burn during this period, as this could change the appearance of your skin lesions and unnecessarily raise suspicions of cancer.

Regular Skin Checks in Future

As we get older, skin cancer risk increases, even if we’ve been careful to avoid excessive UV exposure. This means that regular skin cancer checks are an essential part of your skin protection plan.

  • We usually recommend yearly check-ups if you have average skin cancer risk and you are 40 or older.
  • You might need more regular skin checks if you have a history of melanoma or multiple non-melanoma skin cancers, if you have many moles, or if you’ve used a solarium in the past.
  • If you have many moles, consider regular mole mapping. This is whole-body photography to record and compare the size and number of moles each year.
  • If you are younger and have few moles, you may not need another check-up for two years

After your check-up, make sure you know when your next one is due. Of course, if you have concerns in between check-ups, you should consult a doctor.

Check Your Own Skin

Even if no abnormalities are detected at your skin cancer check-up, a new skin cancer could start to develop at any time.

This means it’s important to keep track of new and changing spots on your own skin. You need to know:

  • how to check your skin
  • what signs to look for

How to Check Your Own Skin

Examine your own skin regularly for signs of new or changing spots. Depending on your degree of risk, you might need to do this monthly or quarterly. It’s usually easier to check your skin with the assistance of another person, but you can do it alone using a hand-held mirror and a larger wall-mounted one.

You might find these resources useful:

What to Look For

The SunSmart Spot the Difference pamphlet has photographs of skin cancers to indicate what types of spots you should have checked by a doctor. You can download it from sunsmart.com.au/downloads/resources/brochures/spot-the-difference-flyer.pdf

 As a general rule, new or changing spots that look different from your other moles are suspect.

The ABCDEF rule can also help you decide if a spot is normal or suspicious.

Asymmetry: The two sides of the spot don’t match
Border: The edge/border of the spot is irregular. It might be clear in one area and indistinct in another.
Colour: The spot has many different colours (not just shades of one colour)
Diameter: Most melanomas have a diameter greater than 5mm. In general, if the diameter (size from one side to the other) is increasing, it's a suspicious sign.
EFG:
Elevated, Firm, Growing
Any raised lump that has a firm consistency and is growing is suspicious. 

If you use the MoleScope app (see below) to take and record photos of your spots, it can help you check for the ABCD signs.

Monitoring with Photography

You can take your own photographs of spots of concern to monitor changes.

Spot Check patients have access to the online DermEngine system which records the location and appearance of atypical spots detected during examination. You can log in to DermEngine to view these photos and assess changes. If you wish, you can take your own photos and add them to your DermEngine records.

You will need:

  • The MoleScope app for smart phone or iPod. It connects to your record in DermEngine, so you can see photos taken at Spot Check and add your own.
  • A lens attachment for your phone allowing you to take close-up photos. You can purchase the SkinScope attachment from Spot Check (provided free of charge if you have the Spot Check Comprehensive service). Alternatively, the MoleScope camera is available online at molescope.com/product.
  • If you wish to ask a doctor’s opinion about a spot you’ve photographed, you can upload it using the DermEngine app and a Spot Check doctor will give you an opinion within 48 hours. (Note: A fee applies for this service.)

See our Online Consulting page for more information about how to take photographs of ypur skin.