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Skin care is important all year round

There’s no way to sugar coat it – skin cancer is no laughing matter. According to the Cancer Council, two out of three Australians will develop some form of skin cancer before the age of 70. Luckily it’s easily detected, and early detection is key for successful treatment.

So, what am I looking for?

When you’re checking your skin, there are three types of skin cancer to look for: melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.

Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It first begins in your skin’s pigment cells and, if left unchecked, can rapidly spread into your lymphatic system or bloodstream and affect other parts of your body.

Squamous cell carcinoma, while serious, isn’t as nasty as its mate melanoma. It begins in the top layers of skin and often develops in the parts of your body that get the most sun. If not treated, though, it too can spread to other areas in your body.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common but least dangerous type of skin cancer, which forms in the deepest levels of your epidermis. It generally develops on the head, face, neck and upper torso.

When to bring in the pros

While it’s great that you’re regularly checking your skin for any changes, it’s still a good idea to have an annual skin check by a professional. Even if you haven’t noticed anything of concern, a trained professional has the right tools on hand to examine your skin for spots or changes that aren’t always visible to the naked eye.

If it’s a basic check you’re after, start with your GP. They will be able to examine you and decide if you have any abnormal spots that need further investigation or continued monitoring. They can also treat some skin cancers on the spot.

There are also lots of specialised skin cancer clinics around Australia, where many of the doctors have had extra training in detecting and treating skin cancers. If you’d prefer to visit a dedicated clinic, a quick Google search to find clinics near you is the way to go.

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What happens next?

If one of your spots looks a little suspicious, it needs to be biopsied to see if it contains any cancerous cells. This is a simple process that can be done under local anaesthetic in the clinic or by a dermatologist. The suspicious spot and a bit of the surrounding tissue is removed and sent to a pathology lab for testing. 

The results of your biopsy will be available about a week later for a follow-up appointment with your GP to talk about the outcome and what happens next, if anything.

If the spot is found to be cancerous, treatment options will vary depending on the type of skin cancer and how advanced it is.

Preventing skin cancers

The obvious way to protect against skin cancers is to stay out of the sun. But here in Australia, that’s not always possible. That’s why it’s so important to use sunscreen on your body (not just your face) every single day. Yep, even in winter.

Like all skin care products, there are a lot of options out there, so how do you choose a good one? That all depends on your skin type, and if you prefer a physical or chemical sunscreen. 

Physical sunscreens work by creating a barrier on your skin that reflects the UV rays away, while chemical sunscreens absorb the UV rays themselves before they convert them to heat and release them. 

One isn’t necessarily better than the other, though. It comes down to personal preference and finding one that you’ll actually use every day. 

Physical sunscreens are generally thicker, so if you’re prone to breakouts you may prefer a chemical sunscreen with a lighter texture. On the flip side, if you have sensitive skin, a chemical sunscreen may irritate and cause redness. 

The important thing to remember when choosing the right one for you? Make sure it’s at least SPF30 or even SPF50, especially on your face.

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