SKIN CANCER CHANGES

ABOUT 30 Australians are diagnosed with skin cancer every day and more than 1000 people die of the disease each year.

In a bid to reduce that number, the Cancer Council of Australia has recently changed the guidelines for diagnosing melanoma, adding elevation, firmness and growth to the assessment list.

The previous diagnosis of moles focused on the ABCD method—asymmetry, border, colour and diameter.

And people are being urged not to ignore paler moles, which actually account for 20 per cent of melanomas, and get them as well as dark-pigmented lesions checked out.

For those unlucky enough to already have been diagnosed with skin cancer, radiation therapy can be an alternative to getting moles cut out and even major surgery.

Dr Jerry Freund, a radiation oncologist, says the non-invasive treatment is particularly suited to elderly patients, who are unable to undergo a general anaesthetic, and people with non-melanoma skin cancers.

• The relentless sun beats down on Western Australia.

“We more commonly treat basal and squamous cell carcinoma,” he says.

“Basal cells are the least aggressive and very rarely spread to anywhere, while squamous can be more aggressive, but are still quite common, and both have a very high cure rate if you catch them early.”

Radiotherapy is also a popular choice for patients who have skin cancer on their face.

“If you’re going to need a skin graft, then that’s often quite unsightly,” he says.

“Radiotherapy can be a good alternative in that case, particularly for areas on and around the nose.”

“Or in some cases when a person has multiple cancers on their face, having a series of local anaesthetics can be stressful and uncomfortable, especially for the elderly, so again radiotherapy can be a good alternative.”

Radiation therapy typically involves a series of 10-minute treatments spread over two to three weeks, with side effects rare and akin to mild sunburn.

“It is not widely known that radiotherapy can be used instead of surgery to treat cancer, but it can be just as effective, and people should consider it when assessing their treatment options,” Dr Freund says. Genesis CancerCare have centres in Bunbury, Joondalup, Murdoch and Wembley.

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