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DIY skin cancer checks: the how, when and where
It’s Monday morning, the children are half out the door, someone’s forgotten their lunch, the phone is ringing and you look down at your hands (wondering why medicine hasn’t yet worked out how to make a perfect clone of you…) when you see a spot.
You know the statistics. You live in Australia, the country with the second highest rate of skin cancer in the world. You are literally in the process of trying to find your child’s hat. But you don’t have time to deal with this right now. It’s probably nothing.
And whilst that’s probably true, it might be a nothing, there are few things worse for your concentration than that niggling worry that splits your attention between all the things you need to get done and that one important thing you’re really scared to do.
So good news! Get the kids out the door, tell whoever’s on the phone you’ll call them back (or just let it ring, we won’t tell!) because you’re not getting anything done whilst you’re worrying about your skin. Now is the time to make time to learn everything you need to know about how to do a quick and easy self-check!
How do I know if I need a self-check?
Self-checks are a great idea for the whole family, even if you haven’t had much sun exposure for ages you can still be at risk for skin cancer, because the damage is likely to have occurred in your childhood/teen years. So diligence is vital for both your skin-health and your peace-of-mind. It’s also a good idea to check your kids, maybe show them what to be looking out for so they can make it a part of their routine as they get older. Getting your partner to check themselves or helping them out is an excellent way to keep to your self-check schedule.
When should I do a self-check?
Well today for starters! But after that we recommend at least every 3 months with a professional check once a year.
How do I check myself?
Stand in a room with good lighting and a mirror, preferably with an additional hand-mirror for better visibility. If you have a trusted person who you are comfortable to have help you out that’s a great idea as well.
Where should I be checking?
Check everywhere and anywhere! Skin cancer can appear on almost any part of your body, regardless of previous sun exposure. Your face, neck and ears can have particularly sensitive skin, but your back, legs, buttocks or arms can also be affected.
If you wear nail polish on your fingers or toes make sure to take it off every once in a while and get a look at the skin under your nails. Speaking of fingers and toes, take a look at the skin between all your digits and check that everything looks good there too.
What am I looking for?
Small lumps of unusually pale or red skin. They can also appear ‘pearly’. Cuts or sores that don’t heal, particularly if they’re crusty in texture. New freckles or spots as well as existing ones that change shape, size or colour or that appear uneven around the edges. The same goes for new and existing moles. Be especially conscious of spots that are very dark or even an almost blue-black in colour.
When you’re all done if there’s nothing that worries you, excellent! Give it another three months and take another look, now knowing what to look out for (although if it’s been more than a year since your last check it might be a good idea to schedule one, just to be safe)
If, however, you find anything at all that concerns you, come on in and get a check to put your mind at ease. There’s no substitute for clarity, especially when it comes to your health. Getting checked gives you the go-ahead to get on with your life – without worrying ‘what if?’
If you’ve got any worries about something you’ve seen on yours or a family member’s skin, you can call us on 9999 0336 (Northern Beaches clinic) or 9223 1608 (Sydney City clinic) if you work in town. You can visit us at www.nbscc.com.au
Dr Penny Yelf is part of the medical team at Northern Beaches Skin Cancer Clinic.
She has almost a decade of hands-on experience as a skin cancer doctor. Penny’s passion is the art and science of detecting and treating skin cancer, which she gets to combine with her other love – caring for her patients.
She also has two young children and understands the wonderful craziness that comes with being a mum