Melanoma Early Detection and Prevention

A clinician conducting a skin check of a patient with a tool

Most skin cancers, including melanoma, are caused by prolonged and repeated exposure to UV radiation in sunlight. In recent years it has become clear that the DNA damage that causes skin cancer and melanoma accumulates with repeated small doses of sunlight.

Melanoma Patients Australia is now recommending that more people apply sunscreen on a daily basis when the UV index is three of higher as part of their morning routine.(1) This recommendation is to protect people against small amounts of incidental sunlight that most of us get each day, and then can cause damage over time. This action alone could help reduce the rates of skin cancer in the future.

Based on the average daily maximum UV index, residents in Australia’s capital cities should apply sunscreen daily in the following months:

• All year round: Brisbane, Perth and Darwin
• Every month except June: Sydney
• Every month except June and July: Canberra and Adelaide
• Every month except between May and July: Melbourne
• Every month except between May and August: Hobart

As well as applying sunscreen and using a range of sun protection strategies when spending time outdoors, MPA encourages everyone to get regular skin checks with a healthcare professional. If you notice new or changing moles, MPA advises you to see a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

In Australia, it is estimated there will be 15,229 new cases of melanoma skin cancer diagnosed in 2019.(2) Melanoma, when advanced, claims a life every six hours in Australia but if melanoma is detected at an early stage, often a simple excision can result in a complete cure. We can see the same result with the more common, less dangerous skin cancers, Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Dr Chris Ho, (MBBS, PhD, MBA) from Australian Skin Cancer Clinics reminds everyone that “self-examination to find these skin cancers is encouraged but getting a proper skin cancer check is essential. It is also important to remember that skin cancers are seldom itchy or painful and are often flat, not raised.”

“When skin cancers start, they can appear like ordinary spots, moles, pimples or freckles. Your doctor needs to examine these spots under dermatoscopic magnification to detect potential early skin cancer. Any sores and injuries that do not heal for months should also be checked by your doctor as they may be a sign of skin cancer.”

Dr Chris Ho is the State Medical Director of the Australia Skin Cancer Clinics Queensland. His tips for reducing your risk of skin cancer include:

• Treat sun damage spots before they progress into skin cancer.
• Regular skin checks to detect skin cancer at the earliest stage.
• Protect your skin from further sun damage with hats, sunscreen and shirts.
• Maintain good skin health by moisturising regularly.
• Most importantly, keep your eye out for any new or changing moles that look different to your other baseline moles and get them checked as soon as possible, even if your next skin check isn’t due for another few months.

“A yearly or 6 monthly skin check will enable your doctor to treat any sun damaged areas thus reducing your risk for skin cancer.”

If you have a history of skin cancer then more frequent checks may be advisable, please discuss with your treating clinician.

The ABCDEs rule is a generic guide for identifying cancerous moles. Melanoma can have any one of the following features:

MPA encourages everyone to get regular skin checks with a healthcare professional. If you notice new or changing moles, MPA advises you to see a healthcare professional as soon as possible.

MPA is delighted to be working in partnership with ASCC to raise awareness of melanoma and the importance of early detection. For more info visit:
www.ausskinclinics.com.au or www.melanomapatients.org.au

(1)  When to apply sunscreen: a consensus statement for Australia and New Zealand. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, doi:10.1111/1753-6405.12873
(2)  Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2019