December 19, 2022

Dermatologist Aaron Robinson on Skin Cancer: Know your ABCDE signs

Summer is the hottest season of the year, when the days are long, and temperatures soar. During this time, our skin gets exposed to the sun more frequently, and if not protected, can result in significant skin damage.

It is very important that we are all aware of the potential risks of sun damage. Knowing how to protect our skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the best way to prevent melanoma and other skin cancers.

Today, we speak to Dr Aaron Robinson, Head of Dermatology, Northern Health, about skin cancer symptoms, treatment and prevention.

How common is skin cancer in Australia?

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with approximately two in three Australians being diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are the most common types of skin cancer in Australia, with melanoma being less common.

What are some of the warning signs of skin cancer? What are the ABCDE signs?

Skin cancer can present as any new mole or other skin lesion growing or changing over time. The “ABCDE” signs are a simple way to identify possible suspicious changes in a lesion that should be brought to the attention of your doctor.

A = asymmetry (lesions becoming asymmetrical)

B = border (lesions with irregular borders)

C = colour (lesions with multiple colours)

D = diameter (lesions growing to have a large diameter above 6mm)

E = evolution (lesions changing over time)

In addition to these changes, lesions that are becoming painful or that bleed without any trauma should also be brought to the attention of your doctor.

Who is most at risk of getting skin cancer?

Skin cancer risk is highest in people who have had significant sun exposure, such as working outside or with outdoor hobbies. In particular, people who regularly have sun exposure to the point of tanning have a higher risk of developing skin cancer. A tan is a sign that your skin is distressed from sun damage – there is no such thing as a healthy tan. People with lighter skin types are also at higher risk of developing skin cancer.

Although some sun exposure is important to maintain adequate Vitamin D levels, the amount of sun required is usually quite minimal. Your GP can also check Vitamin D levels, and this can also be supplemented with tablets if required.

How to prevent skin cancer?

The best way to prevent skin cancer is to minimise sun exposure, and to always use sun protection (such as a hat, long sleeves and sunscreen) when outside for any extended periods. Being aware of your own skin, moles, and seeing your doctor to review any suspicious changing lesions is also important, in order to potentially diagnose any skin cancers early, when they can be easier to treat.

When to see a doctor?

Any new growths or changing lesions should be brought to the attention of your GP, particularly for people that have had a history of significant sun exposure or sun damage. Your doctor may also recommend having a regular check of your skin, if you have a history of significant sun damage, previous skin cancer, or a significant family history of skin cancer. In cases of skin cancer diagnosis or particularly high-risk patients, a referral to a Dermatologist for specialist care might also be appropriate.