Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with powerful UV rays occurring year-round in most parts of the country.
The general population is now of a decent understanding of the importance of skin checks, thanks to three decades of public health campaigns such as SunSmart increasing the public awareness and urgency of skin cancer. Due to this education, the importance of early detection is often well understood, however, the understanding of where, when, and how to get skin checkups is less comprehensive.
Despite years of highly successful public health education and state-based skin cancer awareness, thousands of Australians die each year due to a delay in proper melanoma diagnosis.
A 'skin check' is defined by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners as a "comprehensive assessment and examination of an asymptomatic patient for any evidence of skin cancer".
An annual skin check will allow an opportunity for a professional to examine your skin for any concerns, evaluate any changes in your moles and check out any rashes for signs of concern.
Skin checks are often misunderstood. What is typically a low fuss and quick experience is feared for being intrusive and uncomfortable.
The team here at Sun Doctors is experienced with making you feel calm and confident while they examine your skin from head to toe for any warning signs. If you have a family history of skin cancer or any moles of particular concern, an annual skin check becomes even more essential.
Why you should never skip your annual skin check
Skin cancer is a serious type of cancer and it can often hide in places that are difficult to spot, such as on the back, buttocks, behind the knees, or back of the neck. Skin cancer doesn't only appear in places that see large amounts of sun exposure, often growing without the victim even being aware that they exist.
The good news is that when caught early, skin cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer. According to Cancer Australia, the most recent figures reveal that 16,878 people were diagnosed with melanoma in 2021, yet only 1315 people succumbed to the illness, showing a high overall rate of survival.
If you're nervous about your skin check, there are a few simple steps you can take to prepare for your appointment:
- Perform a self-exam to prepare yourself with notes about any particular areas of concern. If you notice a mole or spot that is changing, document it with regular photos and book in for a skin check as soon as possible.
- Remove nail polish and makeup and try to avoid fake tan prior to your appointment so your clinician can see your skin, nail beds, and the areas around your eyes clearly.
- Wear your hair loose to allow the clinician to get a good look at your scalp, which is a common development zone for skin cancer.
- Come prepared with any questions or concerns to gain valuable advice and tips so you can feel confident until your next check-up.
Most melanoma's can be detected at an early stage when treatment will be more effective. According to the Cancer Council, men over 45 are at the highest risk of developing skin cancer, however, they are the least likely to check their skin or book in for regular skin checks.
It can help to have information prior to your appointment, and once you've done it for the first time, you will soon realise it is a very small price to pay for peace of mind.
What to expect during your exam
Skin cancer checks often differ depending on the patient, their medical history, and any particular concerns. If you've never had issues with strange moles or concerning rashes, your check-up will likely be brief.
Your exam will generally follow these steps:
- You will be asked to remove your clothes and wear a medical gown for the procedure, however, you will likely be able to keep your underwear on.
- Your clinician will check your skin from your scalp to the bottom of your feet, even behind your ears and between your toes.
- They may use a small handheld magnifying device called a dermatoscope to examine the epidermis and the layers beneath it.
- If necessary, your clinician may biopsy one or several suspicious spots, which will involve removing part of the lesion and sending it off to a laboratory for analysis.
- Once the exam is over, you will leave with a decent snapshot of your skin's current health. If you performed a biopsy, you will receive results fairly quickly and a treatment plan will be arranged and discussed further.
The only way to be certain of your risk factor for skin cancer and the state of your skin health is to have a comprehensive annual skin check. Early detection is the key to a minimal and cost-effective treatment that will offer a very high chance of survival.
The best practice is to book your skin check around a certain date or time of year such as the beginning of winter or around an anniversary that you will remember.
With Sun Doctors, your annual skin checks don't have to be stressful or difficult to navigate. Our friendly, experienced, and empathetic team works hard to turn over results quickly and perform skin checks thoroughly to give you certainty and peace of mind.
When should you start getting skin checks?
It is really never too early to start, in fact, good sun safety begins in childhood. If you have any areas of concern, it's best to book an appointment as soon as possible.
How do you do a skin exam?
A clinician will examine your skin from head to toe, including hard-to-spot areas, often using a dermatoscope to comprehensively examine the layers of the skin.
What is a routine skin check?
A close examination of the skin for any lesions, moles, or spots of concern is usually performed annually.
How do you prepare for a skin cancer screening?
Remove jewellery, makeup, nail polish, and fake tan to give a clear view of your entire epidermis. It is useful to perform a personal skin check to note any concerns to bring up during your appointment and keep track of any questions you may have.