Body and Mind

How a mole screening could add years to your life

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With more hours of sunlight starting to stream in to your daily life, it’s time to give some potentially life extending attention to your largest organ – your skin. How can mole screening help, and what’s involved?

Melanoma and the risk factors

While we live, work and play in on the world’s largest island of sunshine and coastlines, the downside is that Australia also has one of the highest rates of skin cancers on the globe.

While melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, it can be the most aggressive and potentially life threatening.

Here is a list of the main risk factors for developing melanoma:

  • Sun damaged skin
  • Fair pigmented skin that doesn’t tan
  • Red or blonde hair (natural of course!)
  • Green or blue eyes
  • More than 100 moles on your skin
  • Large, irregularly shaped and unevenly coloured moles.

Moles are a gathering of an excess of skin cells called melanocytes. The number of moles you have on your skin is influenced by both genetics and your exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

Lower risk moles tend to look like part of a matching set. Any moles that stand out from the set need to be monitored.

The good news is, the earlier you discover skin cancer the more likely it is to be successfully treated.

Mole screening and regular skin self checks could save your life

This is why a professional mole screening or ‘total body skin exams’ (TBSE) along with regular self checks and regular formal mole screening reviews could save your life.

While you can and should check your skin yourself, a skin specialist and a mole map that can be referenced to spot (pardon the pun) any changes, will have your moles kept in check.

While patients that develop melanoma often pick up abnormal moles themselves, not everyone will commit to regular skin self examinations. We all know that there are parts of our own bodies that we never actually see unless we’re contortionists or very clever with mirrors.

A mole screening is like taking out insurance on your longevity. It forces you to pay attention to your body’s largest organ.

While mole mapping and review will help keep your skin health in check, a once a year review of your skin is not a reason to wait to have an irregularity checked out. The moment that you detect an unexplained change in your skin, and particularly a mole, it is off to your GP you go.

What is involved in a mole screening, mole mapping, total body mapping or total body skin exam?

Here is what to expect at a skin cancer or mole screening clinic:

  • A thorough assessment of your skin cancer risk factors with a registered medical professional
  • A discussion about any particular moles that are causing you concern and why
  • An outline of the process involved in the mole screening or mapping and follow up reviews
  • An outline of what happens if a suspicious mole is identified
  • A full skin examination from your scalp to the tips of your toes and the soles of your feet. You generally need to remove all clothing apart from underpants. A modesty gown or towel may be offered.
  • A magnifying tool will be used to closely examine any areas of concern.
  • Some clinics will photograph high magnification photos of your entire skin. Others will take images only of irregular moles that need to be monitored.
  • Software programs may be used to assess the images, in conjunction with a medical specialist review.
  • Your genital area is only examined if you request it because of a particular concern. The risk of developing skin cancer in the genital area is very low which is why you get to keep your pants on!

Here is what to expect if a suspicious mole or skin lesion is detected in a mole screening:

  • Perform a simple biopsy there and then, or book you in for one in the near future – particularly if the biopsy is complex or will require sutures (stitches).
  • If it is safe to do so, abnormal lesions may be removed through cyrotherapy (freezing) or diathermy (burning)
  • The results of the biopsy may take a few days to confirm, and next steps will then be talked through with a specialist medical professional.

Here is what to expect from a mole screening if there are no concerns for the moment:

  • Any moles or lesions that require monitoring will be highlighted to you so you can keep an eye out for any changes
  • You’ll be booked in for a follow up review. The frequency of reviews will depend on your skin cancer risk profile.

Contact Medicare and your private health insurer beforehand to find out what you can and can’t claim in regards to costs for consultations and follow up procedures.

Helpful links to information on mole screening and skin cancers

Cancer Council of Australia > Skin Cancer

Sunsmart > Checking for skin cancers

Mole Screen Australia

Molemap > Knowing when a mole is skin cancer

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