Morgan recently lost her battle with melanoma at just 25 years of age. Although Morgan took great care when enjoying the outdoors, she was unlucky as you can get melanoma without even getting sunburnt (it takes as little as a single exposure to UV light for a cell to go rogue; but obviously, the greater the exposure – the higher the risk). However, the good news is that 90% of people can be treated successfully if an early diagnosis is made.
There is currently no formal screening program for skin cancers in Australia. So on discovering her illness, Morgan was driven to help raise awareness of the dangers of melanoma, and had already started on her mission to do just that.
Although it won’t bring Morgan back, the message is quite simple: Check4Spots Day on 30 January (which will also be Morgan’s birthday) is your reminder to do just that. Book a skin check at your local clinic and say no to the melaNOmonster. Ditto for your loved ones. At the very least, please take the time on this day to become familiar with your own skin and any suspicious spots. The weather is warm and everyone is wearing light clothing; so grab a partner to do a skin check on each other. It won’t take long to run your eyes over areas that are not so easily visible such as the back, neck, ears, shoulders and scalp. Please also be mindful to check areas that are not normally exposed to the sun such as buttocks, soles of your feet, toe nails and in between, etc. Melanomas can even occur where the sun doesn’t shine (yes I kid you not).
With regular self-examination, and being familiar with your own skin – this will help you recognise any new spots, freckles, moles or changes to any existing spots. By identifying potential melanomas at an early stage and acting quickly – may just save yours or your partner’s life. Below are some examples of suspicious tell-tale signs to look out for.
Do you notice any spots with an irregular shape? If you run an imaginary line through the middle, does one half of the spot look similar to the other?
Do you see any spots that have an irregular or ill-defined border?
Do you see any spots that have more than one colour, including black, brown, red, blue, white and uneven or blotchy colours?
Do you notice any spots that are rapidly growing, have increased in size, or are particularly large (greater than 6mm in diameter)?
Do any of the spots feel raised?
Also, be on the lookout for other changes or sensations in spots or moles including itchiness, tenderness or pain, scaly, lumpy, oozing or bleeding.
Do not delay in making an appointment to consult with a trained skin specialist if you have any concerns or notice anything suspicious. By identifying early stage melanoma, the good news is that 90% of people can be treated successfully by having the primary melanoma surgically removed.
Please always be mindful that some doctors are more experienced at diagnosing melanoma than others, and may have done additional training. Do your research – GPs often advertise areas that they may specialise in. To Morgan’s detriment, her GPs failed to show any concern about a mole on her ear she was concerned about.
Do not be put off – if you are concerned about any spots or moles on your body, get a second opinion with another professional. Your best chance of an accurate diagnosis is to consult with a dermatologist.
And finally, please remember to always protect your skin. The Australian climate can be harsh and Aussies have amongst the highest incidence rates of skin cancer in the world (more than 12,500 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed every year).
Melanoma is also the most common cancer in young Aussies (15–39-year-olds) making up 20% of all their cancer cases. People can also be at greater risk of melanoma if they have one or more of the following characteristics: large numbers of moles; large, irregularly shaped and unevenly coloured moles; have had many severe sunburns; or have other people in the family who have had melanoma.
Download the Sunsmart App www.sunsmart.com.au/tools/interactive-tools/free-sunsmart-app so you can keep up to date with current UV levels. When the UV level is > 3, use a combination of sun protection measures such as wearing sun-protective clothing, slop on SPF30+ sunscreen; slap on a hat; slide on some sunglasses. Each time your unprotected skin is exposed to UV radiation, changes take place in the structure of the cells and the skin can become permanently damaged.
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Many thanks to the following organisations for providing the above information. Please take the time to visit their websites to find out more.
Melanoma Institute of Australia www.melanoma.org.au
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre www.petermac.org/cancer/melanoma-skin
Thank you everyone for your support.
Peter and Julie