Sun is Shining – Checking your own skin

Sun is Shining – Checking your own skin

By Dr Jeffrey Chow  General Practitioner  (BMed BDent MRACDS(PDS) FRACGP)

Summer is fast approaching, and it is almost time to swap the puffy jackets for the flimsy fluorescent swimwear. While you are at it, you should also take this opportunity to check your skin for any suspicious spots.


Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, where 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before their 70th birthdays.

Whilst most of the common skin cancer are non-lethal, they can be difficult to treat, particularly on the face, if they are not discovered early enough.

Melanoma, by contrast, is less common but can be lethal. Fortunately, about 90% of melanoma can be curative by surgery if they are caught early.

Melanoma is often referred to as ” Australia’s national cancer” because we have the highest melanoma rates in the world. It is also the most common cancer in young Australians aged 15-40 years.

You can potentially find these cancers earlier by regularly checking your skin, as you are more likely to notice any subtle changes if you are familiar with the look of your skin.

Pop quiz: Which famous singer died from a melanoma? Read on for the answer.


You may be at a higher risk of developing skin cancer if you have any of these risk factors:

– Skin type that burn rather than tan after sun exposure

– Fair skin type, red hair, light-coloured eyes and hair

– Large number of moles – the more moles you have, the higher the risk of melanoma

– Spent lots of time outdoors unprotected or work outdoors

– Previous use of solariums

– A family history of melanoma

– A compromised immune system, or are on immunosuppression medication

You should talk to your doctor about organising a skin check if you have any of the risk factors above.

Asian and African ethnicities are at higher risks of getting a rarer type of melanoma on the foot, hand, and nail. Interestingly, this type of melanoma is not strongly correlated with UV overexposure. The famous reggae singer, Bob Marley, unfortunately died from this rare type of melanoma on his foot.


The “ABCDE” acronym is a good method to use when looking at moles (scan the QR code below for more detail). For your back and areas that are difficult to see, you can “train” your partner, a close friend, or a family member to look for you regularly. Also remember to look at your hands, feet, and nail. You should seek further advice from your doctor quickly if there are any positive or worrying findings.

It is important to note that some melanoma will have none of these features, and you should always talk to you doctor if you have any concerns.

Skin cancer is preventable with good sun protection practice. Learning what to look for and seeking medical attention early can potentially be lifesaving

Sources: Cancer council of Australia, Melanoma Institute Australia

If you want to see Dr. Jeffrey Chow, please call 9000 9955 to make an appointment, or click here to book online.

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