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Skin cancer prevention and risk factors

With two-thirds of Australians expected to be affected by skin cancer by the age of 70, it’s important to take some simple steps to prevent it.

Skin cancer is caused by exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun and is largely preventable with sun safety. Each year about 2000 Australians die from skin cancer.

Types of skin cancer

There are three main types of skin cancer and they vary in severity and seriousness. While some forms can take decades to appear and are not especially life-threatening, others like melanoma can spread around the body to other organs and become fatal within months.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

The most common form of skin cancer, BCC is also the least dangerous. It often appears as an ulcerated lesion and if allowed to grow can become locally invasive. It can grow wide and deep and destroy surrounding tissue and bone. It usually occurs on the head, neck and upper body. They may bleed when knocked and often appear scaly. They can vary in size and appearance.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

These cancers are more dangerous than BCCs because an SCC can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated. They can grow over a period of weeks or months and tend to look like thick red scaly spots. They can also resemble warts or lesions that will not heal. They usually occur on sun-exposed areas of skin on the head, neck and upper body.


This is the most dangerous and life-threatening form of skin cancer because it can grow within weeks or months and if detected too late can have already spread to other parts of the body. It usually appears as a new mole or in changes to an existing freckle or skin spot. If caught early it is usually treatable. If it is left too late, it can be fatal.

How to prevent skin cancer

The most successful and easiest way to prevent skin cancer is to be sun smart. When UV levels reach 3 and you are going to be exposed to the sun, you need to be protected.

Protect yourself against the sun

  • Use a weather app to check UV levels daily (even on cold or cloudy days)
  • Wear as much sun protection clothing as possible
  • Wear a broad-brimmed hat
  • Wear sunglasses all year round
  • Stay in the shade when you can
  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30+ or higher

As well as getting a medical professional like a GP or skin specialist to check your skin, you can keep an eye on it for any changes yourself using the ABCDE method.

Regular checks: ABCDE method

If you notice any changes to your skin (even the soles of your feet or areas usually covered) in any of the following categories you should see your GP.

  • Asymmetry (one half doesn’t match the other half)
  • Border (it’s not a round shape but has uneven borders)
  • Colour (one or more colours including, red, blue, white and black)
  • Diameter (larger than 6mm but melanomas can begin at any size)
  • Evolving (it is changing shape, colour, size over time)

Drayton Street Family Practice uses a product called mole mate which is a non-invasive, painless skin cancer detection device.

If you’re worried about any spot on your skin, or it’s been a while since your last check, book an appointment to see one of our friendly GPs at the Drayton Street Family Practice today. Call us on (07) 4171 0711.

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