Skin cancer: the importance of early detection

Since the ‘slip, slop, slap’ campaign was launched in 1981, most Australians would be well aware of the steps that need to be taken to limit their sun exposure and prevent skin cancer. With the cooler months approaching, many people may be lured into the trap of thinking that the threat of harmful UV rays is reduced. Unfortunately for Queenslanders, the UV Index reaches 3 or higher in the middle of the day all year - meaning you should definitely still be slip, slop, slapping even when the mercury is falling.

Even if all preventative measures are taken, many Australians will continue to be at risk of developing skin cancer during their lifetime, with the Cancer Council reporting that two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. Outdoor workers in particular face higher risks of skin damage from UV ray exposure with as little as 10 minutes outdoor exposure when the UV index is 3 or higher causing damage to the skin.

However, if skin cancer is identified and treated at an early stage, the treatment is often less invasive and may result in a complete cure. The Melanoma Institute Australia reports that 90% of people are able to be cured by having the primary lesion (spot) surgically removed.

The importance of early detection

No matter what your daily level of sun exposure is, you should:

  1. Always take preventative measures to protect your skin. Wear broad spectrum sunscreen (and reapply regularly), cover up with a hat, sunnies and a shirt, and where possible stay out of the sun, especially when the UV rays are strongest.
  2. Familiarise yourself with the signs of skin cancer and what you should look out for – particularly freckles or moles. Organisations like the Cancer Council have handy guides listing the signs to look out for on their website.
  3. Familiarise yourself with the appearance of your own skin and perform regular self-checks. You may need a close friend or partner to assist with checking your skin in hard to reach places and if you’re unsure whether your skin has changed, try taking photographs each time so that you can compare.

If you notice any changes in your skin or you have any concerns, seek advice from your doctor.

Even if you do not have any particular concerns about your skin, make sure that you get regular skin checks with your doctor. There’s no standard length of time between checks, so let your doctor guide you as to how often you should have your skin checked, and consider popping a note in your calendar for when your next skin check is due so you don’t miss it.

Bruce’s story

In recent years, we have seen an increase in clients who have had a delayed diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer. This happens when tests are not performed when they should be to identify whether a lesion is cancerous, or a skin cancer is identified but the results are not reported to the patient.

In May 2014, Bruce went to a skin cancer clinic to undergo a shave biopsy of a mole on his neck. Unfortunately, it was alleged that the pathologist failed to properly report on the biopsy results that it was a malignant melanoma. As a result, Bruce was given the ‘all clear’.

Two years later, Bruce noticed a lump on his neck. He was sent for scans and a biopsy and ultimately was diagnosed Stage III melanoma, which was shortly upgraded to Stage IV melanoma — meaning that it had spread to his lymph nodes, chest and other organs. As a result, he had to undergo radiotherapy and chemotherapy and is still undergoing treatment.

Find a doctor that you trust

Because early detection of skin cancer is essential, it’s important that you find a doctor that you trust. When seeing a doctor, make sure to:

  • Point out any areas of your skin that have changed or that are of particular concern to you. Even if the doctor does not have concerns about the areas that you have identified, it will give them an opportunity to explain to you why they are not concerned and share some of their knowledge with you.
  • Seek advice from trained medical professionals. Look for doctors that have had additional training to detect skin cancers, and are able to properly treat any skin cancers or refer you to a specialist for ongoing management.

If you have sought medical advice and do not feel comfortable with the information or advice that has been provided to you, consider obtaining a second opinion.

Skin cancer is often highly treatable if detected early, so it is imperative that you familiarise yourself with the signs of skin cancer, regularly check your skin, seek medical advice from trained medical practitioners and ensure that you schedule in appointments for skin checks as recommended.

Slip, slop, slap will help keep you protected but early detection may save your life.

Skin cancer claims

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Sarah Vallance

Maurice Blackburn Brisbane

Sarah is a Senior Associate and Accredited Personal Injury Specialist in Maurice Blackburn's medical negligence department, based in Brisbane.
Sarah completed a Bachelor of Laws with Honours at the University of Queensland in 2003 and was admitted as a solicitor in 2006.

She joined Maurice Blackburn in August 2012 and is passionat…

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