Skin Cancer in Australia is very common due to the strength of sunshine in our country, the high proportion of fair-skinned people and our enthusiasm for a sun-loving lifestyle -many of us grew up with days at the beach and with outdoor activities or sports. The risk of skin cancer increases with additional exposure, so it is never too late to start sensible behaviours to reduce your risk. These include:
- avoiding the intense sunlight of the middle of the day (10am - 3pm in summer)
- wearing a hat, long sleeved shirts and long-legged trousers or skirts
- finding shade, like an umbrella or nearby tree, for yourself and your children when outdoors in the sun
- applying a SPF-30 sunscreen on the exposed areas, such as the face, whenever you are in the sun for longer than a 15 minute period. Reapplying sunscreen is also very important when you are in the sun for longer activities
Adults should have a skin check at least every 2 years to look for problematic skin lesions. Obviously if you have a worrying spot see someone before then, and if you have risk factors such as a previous skin cancer you may need to have a check more frequently. Your family doctor can give you advice in this regard and either check you themselves or refer you to someone with the skills to examine you thoroughly.
Many people have benign (non-cancerous) skin lesions that draw attention due to their position, or concerns over the possibility of cancer. Often reassurance is enough that these are not worrying, though sometimes people would prefer the removal of these spots. You can arrange a consultation with Dr Woods to discuss the likely scarring from this procedure and ways to optimise your recovery and minimise your downtime following surgery.
True skin cancers are sometimes obvious just by their external appearance and others require a biopsy to confirm their nature. These tumours vary in type and danger. Some early or thinner types may respond to topical cream treatments. More advanced types, including Basal cell carcinoma and Squamous cell carcinoma, require surgical removal.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, and fortunately is also the least dangerous. This type tends to grow slowly and almost never spread, but can invade widely and deeply in the local area if left. For this reason, BCCs are treated -occasionally with cream treatments if early and superficial, but more often with surgical removal which allows confirmation of the diagnosis and clearance margins.
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is another relatively common form of skin cancer. These lesions behave more aggressively and have a potential to spread to distant sites when thicker or larger (risk is greater than 5% when the SCC is greater than 20mm in diameter). SCCs need surgical removal for treatment to ensure adequate clearance margins.
Often SCCs are preceded by thickening and redness of the skin, which is called solar (or actinic) keratosis. These spots may be treated by freezing with liquid nitrogen (cryotherapy) or by creams. It is important to have a management plan for these common lesions, which can be precancerous.
Dr Woods has great experience in the management of skin cancers and understands the necessary margins required to cure these tumours. He will choose the optimal reconstruction to best re-establish your normal skin contours and minimise scars. At your consultation, you will have the opportunity to talk about the type of skin cancer you may have, and the chosen technique to treat it will be explained to you in as much detail as you would like. Dr Woods appreciates that everyone has different enthusiasm levels for knowledge about their health and tailors the discussion according to your desires.