The importance of regular skin checks
By Dr. Aparna Hegde,
Cosmetic & Integrative General Practitioner, Educator A5M & ACAAM, Advisory Panel Member A5M
MBBS, FRACGP, MPH & Tropical Medicine, Dip Aviation Med, ACAAM
It was 40degC in Perth today while I was completing additional certification in Skin Cancer Medicine in airconditioned comfort. It reminded me to start reminding my patients to book in for their skin checks and do the same for myself.
Beauty may only be skin deep but unfortunately skin cancers are not and cause a significant percentage of preventable deaths in Australia. Preventable because skin cancers are visible, detectable and therefore completely treatable if picked up early with a thorough skin check.
The importance of skin checks was highlighted in a project (SCREEN) conducted in Germany where 19% of the population were checked resulting in a 50% reduction in melanoma deaths over the next 5yrs for the whole population of Germany!
Everyone including darkly pigmented people should have a skin check done as a baseline and then the frequency of checks depends on the individual risk. It is a common misnomer that dark skinned people are completely protected from skin cancer. I have diagnosed skin cancers in very tanned patients and a famous example is Bob Marley who passed away due to melanoma. Having said this, fair people with tendency to burn easily are definitely more susceptible to skin cancer and should have yearly skin checks. Those with a family history of skin cancer, older people (above 40yo) and those with a history of skin cancer themselves are considered at high risk and should also be checked by a trained GP every year.
What is best practice for skin checks?
The evidence shows people aware of their own skin and bringing changes to the attention of their doctor has the best rate of early detection of skin cancer. I recommend patients to check themselves for new or changing skin lesions with the aid of a mirror and/or partner on a monthly basis.
The acronym A, B, C, D, E, F, G (Asymmetry in colour and shape, Border being irregular, Colour variation in the lesion, Diameter of more than 6mm, Elevated, Firm and Growing) is used to highlight skin lumps and bumps of concern. Mole mapping technology and full body photography has not reached the stage of evolution where the rate of early pick up is any better than the full head to toe examination by a trained GP.
At Azure, the GP will do your skin check with a head to toe exam (underwear remains on) including hands, feet, scalp and neck and look at any suspicious areas under magnification with a specialised tool called a dermascope. If there is anything suspicious, treatment can be provided at the clinic or a referral can be made to a plastic surgeon, dermatologist or oncologist as appropriate.
This summer, book in your skin check as part of your prevention for skin cancer – "Slip, Slop, Slap and Check!"
Stay cool everyone.
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Published by A5M with permission from the author
Dr Aparna Hegde can be found at Azure Medical in Perth, WA.
She is a UWA (1994) graduate who has specialised in General Practice and Aerospace Medicine. Aparna completed her certification in Anti-Ageing Medicine with A5M in 2017 (ACAAM). She has a special interest in Women's Health, she is experienced in the use of bio-identical hormones and supplements to restore normal physiology. Aparna was in the RAAF full time for 11 years and is still in the specialist reserves.
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