Q: How does a skin cancer check work?

Always check: A mole that has previously changed can be a cancer.
Always check: A mole that has previously changed can be a cancer.

A: Skin cancer is really common in Australia and is on the rise. In fact, skin cancer now accounts for seven out of every eight new cancers diagnosed in Australia each year.

Regular skin checks should pick up changes in the skin and catch skin cancers early, when they are easiest to treat.

Sometimes a patient will come in specifically with a spot that they are concerned about and I will look at that spot first, make a decision as to what I think it is and then do a thorough check of the rest of their body.

I regularly find additional skin cancers the patient wasn't aware of.

Other people simply come in just for a complete skin check because they've aware they're at an at- risk person and I often diagnose skin cancers that they hadn't noticed.

As a dermatologist, I am most interested in the skin lesions that are growing or changing in size, shape or colour. The principle is that skin cancers change, while benign lesions remain stable.

When I examine a patient and look at any particular spot, I am looking at static features such as what a mole looks like on that particular day to predict what might happen to it in the future.

However, the best predictor of future behaviours is past behaviour. In other words, a mole that has previously changed is likely to continue changing and therefore be a cancer.

If I have been monitoring a patient's skin for some time, I usually take photographs of the unusual moles for future comparison to see if and how a lesion changes over time.

But some people have five thousand spots on their skin, which makes accurate, consistent imaging impossible.

Fortunately, we now have a new technology from the USA specifically for skin imaging that greatly improves my ability to detect melanoma. The Vectra WB360 is a camera that takes a single 3D photograph of the entire skin surface.

I can then examine the patient and photographs together to determine whether any spots have changed. In addition, image analysis software allows me to identify moles that are worth a second look.

How is Vectra used in Australia?

In addition to the full-body 3D scan of the patient's skin,

The Vectra WB360 can engage artificial intelligence to highlight areas for further analysis in real time and to monitor changes that might have occurred since the previous imaging scan.

This helps in reducing the risk of human error in detecting a melanoma.

While the machine learning algorithm has largely being developed overseas,

Australian research institutes have been working together to bring this to the clinic. A lot of Australian skin has been included in the programming.

This technology is the way of the future.

It's going to replace all other imaging and certainly anyone who's in the high-risk category should be doing this.

That includes people with more than a hundred moles, people with dysplastic nevi (atypical moles) or people who have previously had a melanoma, as well as those who have a first degree relative with melanoma.

As always, it's important to protect yourself from the sun in order to reduce the chance of developing melanoma or other skin cancer types. For more information on how to do this visit the Sunsmart website.

As a dermatologist, I am most interested in the skin lesions that are growing or changing in size, shape or colour

Prof Rodney Sinclair