Although it won’t bring Morgan back, the message is quite simple: 30 January (Morgan’s birthday) is Check4Spots Day and your annual reminder to be checking your skin regularly. By identifying melanoma in its early stages, the good news is that 90% of people can be treated successfully.
It is important to reflect on the facts that the Australian climate can be harsh; that one Australian is diagnosed with melanoma every half an hour; that one Australian dies from the disease every five hours; and that so very sadly it also the most common cancer in young Aussies (15–39-year-olds) making up 20% of all their cancer cases. Please think back over your lifetime…. Were you sunburnt on more than five occasions? Did you even ever suffer just one blistering sunburn when you were younger? Do you have a large number of moles? Have other people in the family suffered from melanoma? If the answer is yes to any of these – then the chance of developing melanoma later in life more than doubles. So what can people do to ensure that they don’t personally become a victim of what is often known as Australia’s national cancer? The obvious answer to that is to get a skin check. But we are mindful that many us laid back Aussies might either be too blasé, too lazy or maybe even just too scared to book that check.
So at the very least, if you haven’t already done so, on Check4Spots Day (30th January) please grab a partner to help each other look for any suspicious spots. It won’t take long for your partner to run their eyes over areas that are not so easily visible to one’s self 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. Melanomas can even occur where the sun doesn’t shine (yes, I kid you not).
With regular self-examination, and becoming 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 your or your partner’s life. Get off insta’ and stop twittering for a moment and use your phone to take photos of any spots of concern. By taking regular photographs (say every 3 to 6 months) of any spots you are concerned about, then you can quickly and easily compare them to identify any changes.
And if you see anything you are worried about – ensure you immediately book in for a skin check at your local clinic and say NO to the melaNOmonster. Ditto for your loved ones.
What do I need to be on the lookout for?
Be on the lookout for changes or sensations in spots or moles including itchiness, tenderness or pain, scaly, lumpy, oozing or bleeding. Be on the lookout for any spots with suspicious tell-tale signs such as in the examples below. 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? Please also keep in mind that a small number of melanomas may even be colourless (ie same colour as your skin) and thus a little be more difficult to recognize.
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?
Do not delay in making an appointment to consult with a trained skin specialist if you notice anything suspicious or if you have any concerns. By identifying early stage melanoma, the good news is that 90% of people can be treated successfully by having the primary melanoma surgically removed (usually very quick and painless).
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.
Remember to take care of your skin
Whilst being mindful that some exposure to UV light is necessary for the production of vitamin D, please remember to always protect your skin. Although Morgan took great care when enjoying the outdoors, she was unlucky as you can get melanoma without even getting sunburnt. Each time your skin is exposed to UV radiation, changes take place in the structure of the cells and the skin can become permanently damaged (generally speaking, the greater the exposure – the higher the risk). Incidental sun damage can occur during other routine activities such as when driving your car. These are all very good reasons why you always need to get regular skin checks.
Download the 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.
Finally, 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. Please help her do just that by getting regular skin checks.
To keep up to date with any new breakthroughs re a melanoma cure, please click on the link (top right of this page) to follow this blog.
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
Alfred Health www.alfredhealth.org.au/services/statewide-services/victorian-melanoma-service
Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre www.petermac.org/cancer/melanoma-skin
Cancer Council https://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/about-skin-cancer.html
Thank you everyone for your support.
Peter and Julie