What do your moles mean?
With 2000 Australians dying every year from skin cancer, melanomas and moles need to be taken seriously. So how can you spot warning signs?
When jetting off to sunny Mexico, Australian luxury travel blogger Amanda Twine had no idea there was a ticking time bomb growing under her skin.
With a pale complexion the 37-year-old from Brisbane has always been sun safe, especially when travelling.
So, booking a skin check-up days before jetting off to Mexico City in 2014 was simply routine.
“I was due, so I thought I should do that before I go,” says Amanda.
“The doctor found this spot that was literally a little scaly white spot on my thigh, I didn’t even notice it myself and didn’t think it was anything.”
To be safe a sample was taken for testing, but unfazed Amanda jumped on a plane towards the Caribbean coast.
Unbeknown to her, the small spot was an early-stage melanoma – the deadliest type of skin cancer.
“I was having too much fun travelling around and not answering my messages,” Amanda says.
“So, when I finally did, I found three calls from my doctor, who sounded desperate.”
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A life-shaking moment
On medical advice Amanda cut her Mexican trip short and returned to Australia, where she was operated on within a week to remove the cancer.
“I was so lucky I found it at stage one, not stage three,” she says.
“If I had waited longer it could have been so much worse or even inoperable.”
Skin cancer in Australia
It is a scary story, but unfortunately all too common – with about 2000 Australians dying of skin cancer every year, according to Cancer Council Australia’s Heather Walker.
“It is something that can affect young Australians as well as old, and something we all need to be mindful over because our environment is so extreme,” she says.
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How can you tell if a mole is dangerous?
There is a misconception that skin cancers are big, ugly and obvious, but Heather says not all of them fit this stereotype.
“It may not look like the typical mole. It might be different colours. It might be pearly, it might be red, itchy or bleeding, even a tiny little freckle,” she says.
She recommends checking your own skin weekly and if you notice something odd, book a skin check straight away.
Should you get a skin check every year?
While experts support regular skin checks, Heather says planning an annual check-up can make people complacent.
“In terms of an annual check, skin cancer or melanoma can become deadly in a matter of weeks, so if you are relying on ‘I get my skin check every year’, you might not spot something,” she warns.
How to protect your skin
- Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide, especially from September to March.
- Apply sunscreen correctly, using at least seven teaspoons for a full-body application.
- Don’t rely just on sunscreen – wear long sleeves, hats and sunglasses.
- Try to avoid long exposure to direct sun. Opt for shade instead.
- Check the UV index on the SunSmart App or on the Bureau of Meteorology.
- Avoid exposing babies to direct sunlight when UV levels reach 3 and above.
Source: Cancer Council Australia
National Skin Cancer Action Week 2019 is November 17 to 23.
Written by Alex White.