Skin Cancer Explained

When should you get checked for skin cancer?

Discover how frequently you should self-check for skin cancer and how often you should get a skin cancer check by a professional.
MoleMap Team
April 19, 2023
10 minutes

Ear­ly detec­tion is the key to effec­tive skin can­cer pre­ven­tion and treat­ment. So, how often should you be get­ting your skin and moles checked for skin can­cer? And is there an ​‘ide­al’ time of year to book in a skin can­cer check?

Skin can­cers often do not cause any symp­toms and can eas­i­ly go by unde­tect­ed with­out reg­u­lar screen­ing. But know­ing when and how often to check your skin can be tricky. That’s why we’ve cre­at­ed this gen­er­al guide on how fre­quent­ly you should self-check your skin and when to turn to the experts for a pro­fes­sion­al skin can­cer check.

Your per­son­al skin can­cer risk lev­el will ulti­mate­ly deter­mine the types of skin checks you should be get­ting and the ide­al fre­quen­cy (we’ll take a clos­er look at how you can deter­mine your skin can­cer risk lat­er in this blog).

But to give you a gen­er­al guide­line, we rec­om­mend the following:

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Self skin can­cer check — at least every 3 months

Learn how to check your own skin reg­u­lar­ly for skin can­cer and get to know your skin well. We rec­om­mend doing a self-check every three months (at the begin­ning of each sea­son is an easy way to remem­ber) — or more often if you’re high risk. Before or after a show­er is usu­al­ly a good time to do it.

How to check your skin for skin cancer

  • Undress com­plete­ly
  • Make sure you’re stand­ing some­where with good lighting
  • Use a full-length mir­ror or small hand mir­ror to check your entire body from head to toe, includ­ing all freck­les and moles
  • Ask a part­ner or fam­i­ly mem­ber to check the areas you can’t see, such as your neck, scalp and back
  • Fol­low the ABCDE­FG rules to spot any warn­ing signs

If you notice any chang­ing or sus­pi­cious look­ing moles or skin spots, be sure to book in a pro­fes­sion­al skin check imme­di­ate­ly. It may not be any­thing of con­cern, but it’s always best to get it checked out by the experts.

Pro­fes­sion­al skin check — at least every 12 months

Annu­al skin checks with an expe­ri­enced melanog­ra­ph­er or der­ma­tol­o­gist will give you the best chance of catch­ing sus­pi­cious spots or moles ear­ly when they’re most treatable.

Many peo­ple also ask their doc­tor to check their skin as part of their annu­al well­ness check — and this is def­i­nite­ly a great idea! How­ev­er, just remem­ber that GPs usu­al­ly do a brief visu­al skin check with­in the con­fines of a 15-minute appoint­ment. And because melanoma is very dif­fi­cult to detect visu­al­ly, even the most expe­ri­enced GP can miss a sus­pi­cious mole that’s chang­ing or grow­ing. That’s why we rec­om­mend book­ing in a mole check at our skin cancer clinics every year.

What hap­pens dur­ing a skin can­cer check?

If you’ve nev­er had a pro­fes­sion­al skin check before, this is typ­i­cal­ly what you can expect dur­ing your appointment:

  • Your doc­tor or melanog­ra­ph­er will ask you ques­tions to assess your skin can­cer risk
  • You’ll undress down to your under­wear so they can car­ry out a thor­ough exam­i­na­tion of your skin
  • Your doc­tor or melanog­ra­ph­er will like­ly use a der­mas­cope (a spe­cial device with a mag­ni­fy­ing lens) to look at any sus­pi­cious moles or spots
  • Some GPs may take a biop­sy of any spots where they sus­pect skin can­cer or they may refer you on to a der­ma­tol­o­gist for fur­ther investigation

Dur­ing a MoleMap skin check, images of any moles of con­cern will be sent to a der­ma­tol­o­gist for expert diagnosis

What's my skin cancer risk?

Answer six simple questions (takes less than 1 minute) to discover your risk and the right skin check for you.
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Full Body Mole Map — every year

There’s a good rea­son we rec­om­mend hav­ing a Full Body MoleMap every year. Why? Because more than half of melanomas are new and don’t come from an exist­ing mole. And the ear­li­er we detect some­thing new or chang­ing, the bet­ter the outcome.

Once we have your skin mapped and on file, we’ll know what was already there and what wasn’t when we com­pare your skin and moles at your next appointment.

For those who are at a low­er risk of skin can­cer, a MoleMap SkinCheck is also a good annu­al option. But keep in mind that it doesn’t include skin-map­ping over time like a Full Body MoleMap.

What hap­pens dur­ing a Full Body MoleMap?

A Full Body MoleMap takes about 50 min­utes long — so you can rest assured that you’re get­ting a very com­pre­hen­sive skin check from head to toe. Here’s what to expect dur­ing your appointment:

  • An expert melanog­ra­ph­er will talk you through the process and ask you ques­tions to assess your skin can­cer risk — you’ll also get the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask any ques­tions you may have too
  • You’ll undress down to your under­wear (and offered a patient gown) so your entire body can be checked.
  • The melanog­ra­ph­er will check and take pho­tographs or ​‘map’ every suit­able mole, skin spot or lesion on your body
  • Images of all sig­nif­i­cant moles will be sent to a der­ma­tol­o­gist for expert diagnosis
  • You’ll receive your results in a mat­ter of days

When is the best time to get a skin check?

The truth is: there is no hard and fast rule for when to get your skin checked — nor is there a best time of the year to get your skin checked.

Many of our patients like to have skin checks dur­ing the sum­mer months or at the end of sum­mer to ensure they don’t have any grow­ing or chang­ing moles after being more exposed to the sun.

Oth­ers pre­fer to have their skin and moles checked every autumn or win­ter when their skin is less tanned and clos­er to its nat­ur­al state. The cool­er months can also be a good time for a pro­fes­sion­al skin check as you’re less like­ly to spot any changes your­self when your skin is always cov­ered up.

To us, the best time to get your skin checked for skin can­cer is any­time — as long as you’re doing it reg­u­lar­ly (either every six months or every year) and with a professional.

When to get a mole checked

Most of us have moles and, in most cas­es, they’re noth­ing to wor­ry about. Nor­mal moles usu­al­ly look alike and typ­i­cal­ly share these characteristics:

  • Range in size from 1mm to 10mm
  • Brown or black in colour
  • Can be raised or flat.
  • Usu­al­ly even in colour and shape but may some­times have uneven bor­ders or mul­ti­ple colours

What should I look out for when check­ing my moles

While the aver­age mole is gen­er­al­ly of no con­cern, there are a few warn­ing signs you should look out for that may indi­cate some­thing more suspicious:

  • New mole
  • A mole that is grow­ing in size
  • A mole that is chang­ing in colour
  • A mole that becomes raised or devel­ops a raised lump with­in it
  • A lesion with a rough, scaly or irri­tat­ed surface
  • A mole with a notched or uneven outline
  • A mole that bleeds or weeps
  • A mole that is itchy
  • A mole that looks dif­fer­ent to your oth­er moles

It’s also a good idea to famil­iarise your­self with the ABCDE and EFG rules when your self-check­ing your moles or skin spots. And if you notice any of the above signs — espe­cial­ly new or chang­ing moles — you should def­i­nite­ly see a doc­tor or melanog­ra­ph­er so they can inves­ti­gate further.

How to deter­mine your skin can­cer risk factor

As we men­tioned above, your skin can­cer risk will deter­mine how often you should be check­ing your skin — both at home and with an expert.

Everyone’s skin is dif­fer­ent and your risk of devel­op­ing skin can­cer or melanoma depends on sev­er­al factors:

Your skin type

All skin types can be dam­aged by too much expo­sure to the sun’s harm­ful UV rays. But peo­ple with fair skin or who burn eas­i­ly are at a high­er risk of skin can­cer. Those with nat­u­ral­ly dark skin do have a low­er risk of skin can­cer, how­ev­er this does not make them immune. No mat­ter what your skin type, you should always pro­tect your skin when out in the sun and get reg­u­lar skin checks.

Your age

While skin can­cer can hap­pen at any age, your skin can­cer risk does increase as you get old­er. Those who are over 50 years are most at risk.

Your lifestyle

If you work out­doors, spend a lot of time out in the sun unpro­tect­ed or have used sunbeds and solar­i­ums in the past, you could also be at a high­er risk.

Your fam­i­ly and per­son­al his­to­ry of skin cancer

If some­one in your fam­i­ly has had skin can­cer, your risk increas­es — in fact, you’re twice as like­ly to devel­op melanoma if some­one in your close fam­i­ly (par­ents, sib­lings or chil­dren) have had it. Like­wise, if you’ve had melanoma in the past, your risk of get­ting it again is nine times high­er.

How many moles you have

If you have a high num­ber of moles, your risk of devel­op­ing melanoma or oth­er skin can­cers is high­er — even up to sev­en times more like­ly if you have more than 100 moles.

How often you’ve been sunburnt

Repeat­ed sun­burns can increase your risk of devel­op­ing skin can­cer. Accord­ing to the Skin Can­cer Foun­da­tion, a person’s risk of melanoma dou­bles if they have had more than five sun­burns. But the report also notes that get­ting just one blis­ter­ing sun­burn in child­hood or ado­les­cence can more than dou­ble your chance of devel­op­ing melanoma lat­er in life.

Know your risk lev­el and get checked often

It’s impor­tant to know your skin can­cer risk — and an easy place to start is to take our quick online Risk Quiz. The results will give you an indi­ca­tion of your per­son­al skin can­cer risk lev­el and how often you should have your skin and moles checked.

And remem­ber, if you have any con­cerns about a mole or spot on your skin, book in with a pro­fes­sion­al australia skin can­cer clin­ic as soon as you can.

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

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