Two out of three Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they reach the age of 70 years. The vast majority are non-melanoma skin cancers such and squamous cell or basal cell carcinomas, which are relatively easy to treat and rarely spread to other parts of the body. More than 2000 people will die from skin cancer in Australia each year, and most skin cancers could be prevented by good sun protection. The week is designed to remind Australians of the importance of sun protection and early skin cancer detection. Each year the Australasian College of Dermatologists and Cancer Council Australia join for National Skin Cancer Action Week.

The reminder is to:

  • Slip on sun-protective clothing
  • Slop on SPF 30 or higher sunscreen
  • Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
  • Seek shade
  • Slide on sunglasses

A combination of these actions, and getting to know your own skin and regularly checking to detect changes are the keys to reducing skin cancer risk

Many years of SunSmart campaigns have raised community awareness and anxiety about skin cancer, but although most people know early detection is best, there remains confusion about the need for regular skin checks.

Breast, bowel and cervical cancer prevention programmes recommend population-based screening with mammograms, stool tests and PAP checks, but current clinical guidelines recommend examining your own skin and asking your GP for a skin check if you notice a change. Australian guidelines are in favour of self-detection. In particular, the features to looks for are often referred to as the ABCD rule:

  • Asymmetry
  • Border irregularity
  • Colour variation
  • Diameter larger than five millimetres

The technology world has new hardware to transform smartphones into diagnostic medical instruments and software to " autodiagnose" skin cancers. The accuracy of these apps currently is questionable and could delay diagnosis by giving false reassurance. Research is underway to combine mobile dermatoscopes, a light source and magnifying lens that can be attached to a smartphone to examine skin along with Specialist advice. The benefits of consumer-led mobile teledermoscopy may include reduce waiting times, reduced costs, earlier diagnosis and improved treatment outcomes. Until accuracy as a mobile smartphone accessory is improved, regularly checking using the ABCD rules and asking a GP to review any suspicious skin change remains the most appropriate pathway.

Those at higher risk of skin cancer may benefit from regular skin checks by a GP or Dermatologist, with some evidence to support the use of medical photography in this group to help detect melanomas early, but photography is not the best way to detect non-melanoma skin cancers, or a substitute for an examination by an experienced clinician.

The higher risk groups include those who have a family history of melanoma, those who have had a previous skin cancer or more than 20 solar keratosis treated and those with many moles (more than 50)

For more information, including the Guide to Clinical Practice:

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