January 17, 2024

The ABCDE of skin cancer

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.

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)

Dr Aaron Robinson, Head of Dermatology, Northern Health, says, “skin cancer risk is highest in people who have had significant sun (and thus ultraviolet light) exposure, such as with 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.”

“There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is a sign that your skin is distressed from sun damage. People with lighter skin types are at higher risk of developing skin cancer, but skin cancers can occur in people with darker skin too.”

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 and 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. 

“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,” advises Dr Robinson.

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.

Northern Health runs a clinic for management of skin cancers. Patients can be referred to the clinic by their General Practitioner (GP), after a biopsy.