More than 13,000 Australians are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma in Australia this year alone. Melanoma represents only 2% of all skin cancers yet causes 75% of skin cancer deaths in Australia.1 The good news is if the cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, simple treatment can cure the disease.
A quick five-point self-assessment tool based on factors such as hair colour and family history can be used to identify high risk patients who should undergo regular skin checks, according to Professor Jon Emery, head of the department of general practice at the University of Melbourne.2
The melanoma risk prediction model, developed by the Sydney School of Public Health, is based on:
- Hair colour
Those with red hair are 10 to 100 times more susceptible to melanoma than people with other hair colours as they tend to have less pigmentation to protect them. People with pale or freckled skin, fair hair and blue eyes also belong to the high risk group. People with dark hair and eyes who don’t usually get sunburnt are at medium risk of developing skin cancer, and naturally brown and black people who can usually tolerate higher levels of sun exposure without getting sunburnt are at least risk of skin cancer. Nevertheless excessive exposure to UV rays can damage all skin types and will increase risk.3
- Nevus density
Moles are overgrowths of melanocytes (a type of skin cell). Australians tend to have more moles than other nationalities. We aren’t usually born with moles, but most of us will develop some on our skin by 15. The number of moles we develop is determined by genetic factors and exposure to the sun.
Moles to keep a keen eye on are called dysplastic moles; these moles look different to ordinary moles and are more likely to evolve to melanomas than regular moles. If you have multiple dysplastic moles you are at greater risk of melanoma.
See your doctor if you think you have moles with the following ‘dysplastic’ characteristics:
- Larger than most moles
- Smudgy and irregular edges
- Uneven in colour
- May have some pinkness.
- Family history of melanoma
Heredity plays a major role in melanoma, if your mother, father, siblings or children have had a melanoma, you are in a melanoma-prone family. A person with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a 50% greater chance of developing the disease than people who do not have a family history.4
- Previous non-melanoma skin cancer
If you have developed a skin cancer previously, your chances are more likely to develop melanoma for the same risk reasons, e.g. skin type and level of sun exposure.
- Sun bed use
Sun beds give out harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays that damage your skin and can make it look wrinkled, older or leathery. The UV rays from sun beds can also damage the DNA in your skin cells, and over time this damage can build up to cause skin cancer.5
The melanoma risk prediction model is beneficial as a patient self-assessment system, it is important to be aware if you are predisposed to the cancer. The sooner a skin cancer is identified, the sooner it can be treated. If you identify a serious case of skin cancer early enough you could avoid potential surgery, scarring from surgery and most importantly a life threatening situation.
Skin cancer examinations should be done on a routine basis, set aside 10 minutes of your time and conduct a thorough check every two months. If you identify with the melanoma risk prediction model as being predisposed to the disease then do this monthly.
At Specialist Clinics of Australia our team of doctors are experienced medical experts. We take extreme care to assemble practitioners who are leaders in their field and backed by state of the art technology. If you require a referral to see any of our specialists we are able to facilitate this in-house immediately prior to your appointment.