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What are the most common types of skin cancer (and how to check your skin)

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Each year, more than 2,000 Australians die from skin cancer alone. This is why being informed about skin cancer, and being pro-active with its prevention is an important part of living an Australian life. With National Skin Cancer Week fast approaching on November 18th, it is important not only to know how to protect yourself against the sun but also what skin cancer is, how common it is and how you can check your skin.

There are three types of skin cancer:

The first two are often referred to collectively as ‘non-melanoma skin cancers’. They are the less aggressive types that only spread rarely to other tissues in the body. Luckily, they are also the much more common types of skin cancer, with more than 9 in 10 cases of skin cancers being non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanomas, which are more aggressive, are much rarer. While over 750,000 Australians will seek treatment for non-melanoma skin cancers each year, only about 14,000 are diagnosed with melanoma.

What do the different types of cancer look like?

Non-melanoma skin cancers tend to grow much more slowly than melanoma. Often, they will grow out of a skin-coloured lump. These lumps and ulcers can become crusty and bleed, and in the case of squamous cell carcinoma, they will be tender to the touch. Sometimes, non-melanoma skin cancers present as a discoloured patch of skin that remains flat but becomes red and scaly. This is more likely in basal cell carcinoma, which can also present with some black or brown pigment in the patch. Both may also present as an elevated growth with a central indentation.

When looking for melanomas, it is important to check any newly formed moles or any changes to existing moles. They may have an irregular border, have different pigments in them, be asymmetrical and change in shape or thickness.

How do I check my skin?

Now that you know what to look out for, you should know that it’s recommended to check your own skin every three months for any signs of skin cancer. This is in addition to your yearly skin check, which you can book here with SunDoctors.

It’s easiest to check your skin with the assistance of someone who you’re close with, as areas like your back and scalp are hard to check yourself. But, you can also use a mirror for those areas. Some areas are easy to forget, such as in between your fingers and toes, the soles of your feet and the palms of your hands and underneath your finger- and toenails, so make sure to check those, too.

If you discover anything suspicious or are unsure, make an appointment immediately so a professional can have a look at it and take the necessary steps to ensure that you and your skin are healthy.

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