After your skin cancer check-up: what next?

It’s reassuring to have a skin cancer check-up, but the risk of skin cancer never goes away. What should you do next to reduce your risk of skin cancer in future?

Did we miss something?

No medical examination or test is perfect. A skin cancer check-up is no exception.

You may be worried about a spot that the doctor seemed not to examine. In most cases, the doctor did see the spot but it looked harmless and the doctor simply didn’t say anything about it. But it’s not possible to detect 100% of skin cancers 100% of the time, so please tell us if you think we missed something.

Hair and tattoos can make examination difficult. We will try to find as many skin cancers as possible but bear in mind we might miss spots on your scalp or covered by tattoos.

If you are wearing nail polish it could hide suspicious spots on your fingers or toes. Let us know if you notice any new or changing spots when you remove the nail polish.

It’s rare for skin cancer to occur on the genitals so this area is not routinely examined unless you ask us to do so.

Do you need to return for review of atypical spots?

Your check up might not be completely finished yet. If we've identified and photographed any unusual spots, we would like you to return so we can re-check and re-photograph them to look for any suspicious changes.

Photographing spots isn’t as accurate as cutting them out and examining them microscopically. However, surgical procedures leave scars and can cause other side effects. Of course we surgically remove any really suspicious spots, but with the mildly unusual ones, we prefer to take a series of photos. To increase the skin cancer detection rate, these followup photos are very important. If you miss these, you might miss out on the chance to diagnose a melanoma in its very early, curable stages.

Normally we ask you to return after three months. Avoid tanning and sunburn during this period, as this could change the appearance of your skin lesions and falsely raise suspicions of cancer.

Regular check-ups in future

Skin cancer can develop any time, so you’ll need further skin cancer check-ups in future. In most cases, we recommend a full skin check-up every year. If you’re at especially high risk (for example if you’ve had a melanoma previously) you may need to be checked more frequently. Alternatively, if you are at lower risk (generally younger people with few moles who regularly check their own skin) you may not need another check-up for two years.

After your check-up, make sure you know when your next one is due. Of course, if you have concerns in between check-ups, you should consult a doctor.

In between check-ups

Check your own skin

Examine your own skin regularly for signs of new or changing spots.

We recommend the method published at the Know Your Own Skin website. The website has a video, step-by-step instructions and even apps for smart phones that allow you to photograph your spots and check them for later changes.

The SunSmart Spot the Difference pamphlet has photographs of skin cancers to indicate what types of spots you should have checked by a doctor. (See the link at the bottom of this page to download this pamphlet.)

Stay sun smart

Avoid sun damage to your skin. Pay attention to the daily UV index and use sunscreen, shade, hats and clothing to minimise your exposure to sunlight when the UV index is greater than 3.

Useful resources include SunSmart’s Being Sun- Smart in Victoria leaflet and the SunSmart app for phones. There are links to these resources at the bottom of this page

Does anything else need to be checked?

Sometimes melanoma appears in areas not normally checked by a skin cancer clinic. Fortunately this is rare, but you may wish to have your eyes and mouth checked.

Eyes

Melanoma can occur in the eye. Because it's a rare condition and requires specialised equipment to properly diagnose, it's not a routine part of the skin cancer check-up. If you are concerned, have your eyes checked by your GP, an ophthalmologist or an optician. Many opticians provide a bulk-billed eye examination and visual check.

Mouth

When you see your dentist for a regular check-up, he or she routinely inspects your mouth for abnormalities including cancer, as well as checking your teeth. This should be an automatic part of your regular dental check-up, but make a point of asking your dentist about it if you have any concerns.

Scalp

It’s very difficult to perform a thorough scalp examination if you have long or thick hair. Despite our best efforts, we may miss spots on your scalp. Your hairdresser spends a lot more time looking at your scalp than we can. If he or she notices anything unusual, remember where it is and show a doctor.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for bone strength and general health. The best source of vitamin D is exposure to sunlight.

If you’re very careful about avoiding the sun to reduce your risk of skin cancer, you might be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. If you’re concerned, your GP can check your vitamin D level.

The Cancer Council’s How Much Sun is Enough? pamphlet is a good guide to the amount of sun exposure required to achieve a healthy vitamin D level. There is a link to this pamphlet at the bottom of this page.

Don’t forget

Continue to protect yourself from excessive sun exposure by using broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreens, hats, sunglasses, protective clothing and shade.

Keep an eye on the SunSmart UV Alert (on our homepage or via the SunSmart app) to warn you when the risk of sun damage is high.