For Cancer Council SA Chief Executive Kerry Rowlands, what started as a small freckle on her leg that looked a bit darker than the others, turned out to be a melanoma. Kerry shares her own experience with skin cancer in the hopes of encouraging South Aussies to get to know their skin and seek an expert opinion if they notice any changes.
Some spots on the skin are nothing to worry about, but others can be life-threatening if not detected and treated early. When it comes to the successful treatment of skin cancer—particularly melanoma—early detection is critical. To give yourself the best chance of catching skin cancer in its early stages, you need to know what to look out for.
Skin cancers can all look quite different, so becoming familiar with your own skin and regularly self-checking your skin for signs of any change and raising those concerns with your GP is the best way to detect skin cancer early.
Kerry had always been very aware of the impact of the sun. She would be the one reminding her friends and family to put sunscreen on and had been getting regular, annual skin checks for years. But 18 months ago, she noticed a new spot on her leg.
“The reason I thought it looked unusual is because it was quite a dark freckle. I’ve got lots of freckles but they’re not really that dark black. It also felt like there was this tingle in my leg there. So, when I went to do my annual skin check, I just asked the specialist to check it out,” Kerry explains.
The skin specialist had a good look at it and said it didn’t look like anything to worry about and that it didn’t have any of the usual characteristics of a skin cancer. A year later at her next skin check, the spot hadn’t changed, and she was told the same thing.
But something just didn’t feel right for Kerry—a month later she went back to her specialist and asked for it to be removed.
“Then on the Saturday, I distinctly remember it, my husband was away, and I was getting ready to go out with some friends for the day when my phone rang. The doctor said, ‘I’m actually really surprised to be giving you a call because I’ve just got the pathology back and it is melanoma’,” Kerry says.
Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, making up 1–2 per cent of all skin cancers. However, it is the most serious form of skin cancer because it’s more likely to spread to other parts of the body, especially if not found and treated early.
“Thankfully they were able to remove it all and it hadn’t spread into the tissue or anywhere else that required any further treatment.”
“For a freckle that was probably 2.5 millimetres in diameter, I’ve now got this beautiful scar which is probably 8 to 10 centimetre long on my leg,” Kerry says.
Kerry’s story is a reminder for all of us to keep an eye on spots that look different to others on your body. It’s also important to check your whole body regularly for changes to any existing spots such as size, shape, colour or texture; and any sores that itch, bleed, or don’t heal.
“Intuitively I knew that something wasn’t right and I’m so glad I did something about it. Maybe it didn’t have the characteristics of a melanoma on their chart, but it was something different for me in terms of my skin complexion and freckles,” Kerry says.
“My message to South Australians is to follow your instinct. Know your skin and ask for action if you think that something’s wrong.”
Learn more about how to check your skin for early signs of skin cancer.