Your skin protection plan should:
- manage current issues (e.g. skin cancers, suspicious spots, rashes)
- enable early diagnosis of skin cancers if they occur
- reduce your risk of new skin cancers developing, by avoiding unnecessary ultraviolet exposure and using sunscreen
- treat existing sun damage to your skin
There are many strategies; your skin protection plan should choose the ones that work best for you.
Manage current issues
Skin lesions (spots, lumps or rashes) that you have noticed or that have been detected by your doctor during a skin check may need. They require treatment to reduce the risk of serious skin cancer.
- Lesions that your doctor believes are skin cancer
- Lesions that have suspicious features and require a biopsy for diagnosis and/or determining further treatment
- Pre-cancerous lesions that might develop into skin cancer if untreated
- Skin conditions that make diagnosing and treating skin cancers difficult
Your doctor will manage the issue by prescribing or recommending treatment, and sometimes by treating the lesion during your consultation.
You might need to return to the clinic for a procedure, or for a repeat examination after applying a cream or taking medication.
If your doctor has identified a skin issue or lesion that needs to be treated or biopsied, make sure you understand and agree on a plan for how and when this is going to occur.
Enable early diagnosis
The main way a skin cancer check reduces the risk of serious skin cancers is by finding and enabling treatment of early skin cancers. But most skin cancers are detected by the patient or their family member/friend. You gain maximum protection by:
- having your skin checked professionally, and
- checking your own skin
One of the ways your doctor can diagnose early skin cancers is to monitor how unusual skin lesions over time. So if your doctor recommends a follow-up check up, ensure you keep your appointment as the examination is part of the early detection process.
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.
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.
Video guide to checking your own skin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrJIQKDs5Jg
Written instructions, together with a description of what to look for (and pictures of skin cancers): cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/check-for-signs-of-skin-cancer.html
What to look for
Be suspicious of any new or changing spots that look different from spots elsewhere on your body. Spots that break the pattern of the other spots are known as “ugly ducklings”. Identifying them is one of the quickest and easiest ways of locating skin cancers for non-medical people.
The ABCDEFG rule can help you decide whether a spot is likely to be a melanoma. For more information, see the Enabling Early Diagnosis page.
The SunSmart Spot the Difference pamphlet has photographs of skin cancers to indicate what types of spots you should have checked by a doctor: sunsmart.com.au/downloads/resources/brochures/spot-the-difference-flyer.pdf
Monitoring with photography
You can monitor your own moles by taking a series of photographs over time. This can be a useful way of detecting changes in size or shape — sometimes an early sign of skin cancer.
Spot Check patients can view photos taken by their doctor using the DermEngine system. This system allows you to add more photos to your record for comparison, and request an opinion from your Spot Check doctor about any spots of concern you’ve photographed (a fee applies).
Reduce your risk
Be sun smart
The best-known and most effective way of reducing your risk of skin cancer is to minimise unnecessary exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
UV radiation is strongest in the middle of the day in the summer months, but it can be high enough to increase skin cancer risk in cooler months. You can’t see or feel UV radiation.
Clouds do not block UV radiation. This is a poorly investigated area, but there is recent research suggesting that some cloud types may even increase UV exposure. Similarly, a cool day does not mean reduced UV radiation. So don't be complacent on cool or cloudy days.
To keep track of the UV level every day, and notify you of the exact times you need to be careful about sun exposure, we recommend the SunSmart app for smartphones: sunsmart.com.au/tools/interactive-tools/free-sunsmart-app
During times of high UV levels, reduce your exposure to UV radiation from the sun by:
- Covering your skin with sun-protective clothing (including long sleeves and pants)
- Wearing broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor of 30 or above, and reapplying regularly
- Wearing a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears
- Staying in shaded areas when possible
- Using sunglasses that wrap around and fit close to the face. If you wear prescription sunglasses check with your optometrist that they offer UV protection.
Vitamins and supplements
In high risk people, i.e. those who have had a previous basal cell carcinoma or squamous carcinoma, vitamin B3 (nicotinamide) can reduce the risk of future non-melanoma skin cancers by about a third. The benefit is not yet known for people at lower risk.
There is also evidence that caffeine and aspirin reduce the risk of non-melanoma skin cancers. You should check with a doctor before commencing regular aspirin because of the risk of side effects.
Treat sun-damaged skin
Treating areas of sun damaged skin may help reduce the risk of future non-melanoma skin cancers, as well as improving skin appearance.
The most effective treatments must be prescribed or administered by a doctor or nurse. They include prescription creams and treatment (e.g freezing) of pre-cancer skin lesions.