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How do I spot a skin cancer?

Skin cancers don’t all look the same, but there are signs to look out for, including:

  • a spot that looks and feels different from other spots on your skin
  • a spot that has changed size, shape, colour or texture
  • a sore that doesn’t heal within a few weeks
  • a sore that is itchy or bleeds.

There is no set guideline on how often to check for skin cancer, but checking your skin regularly will help you notice any new or changing spots. If you have previously had a skin cancer or are at greater risk of developing skin cancer, ask your doctor how often you should check your skin.

Learn more about finding skin cancer early

Which health professionals will I see?

If you notice any changes to your skin, there are a number of health professionals you can see.

General practitioner (GP)A GP treats most people with skin cancer. Treatment may include surgery and/or creams or gels. You will be referred to a dermatologist or surgeon if necessary.
DermatologistThis is a specialist doctor who diagnoses and treats skin conditions, including skin cancer. They can perform general and cosmetic surgery and prescribe topical treatments.
Surgical oncologistManage complex skin cancers, including those that have spread to the lymph nodes.
Plastic surgeonThis is a surgeon trained in complex reconstructive techniques for more difficult to treat areas such as the nose, lips, eyelids and ears.
Radiation oncologistTreats cancer by prescribing and coordinating the course of radiation therapy.

When you make an appointment to see a dermatologist or surgeon, ask about the cost and how much will be refunded by Medicare. If there is a waiting list and there is a spot on your skin of particular concern, your GP can request an earlier appointment.

Many public hospitals in large cities have dermatology outpatient clinics that provide treatment for free. Your GP can refer you. In areas without a dermatologist, you may be able to see a surgeon or a visiting dermatologist.

Should I go to a skin cancer clinic?

Skin cancer clinics offer a variety of services and fee arrangements. They are usually operated by GPs who have an interest in skin cancer.

Research shows that clinics may not offer a higher level of skill than your GP. In deciding whether to attend a skin clinic, consider the following points:

  • the qualifications and experience of the medical staff – this includes whether they are members of a professional association related to treating skin cancer
  • what you will have to pay – some clinics bulk-bill for the initial consultation but require up-front payment for further appointments or surgery (which may not be subsidised by Medicare); others require up-front payment for all appointments
  • the range of services offered
  • the follow-up provided.

Cancer Council does not operate or recommend any skin cancer clinics, and does not recommend particular specialists. 

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed in January 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: Prof Diona Damian, Dermatologist, The University of Sydney at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, and Associate, Melanoma Institute of Australia, NSW; Dr Annie Ho, Radiation Oncologist, Genesis Care, Macquarie University, St Vincent’s and Mater Hospitals, NSW; Rebecca Johnson, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Melanoma Institute of Australia, NSW; Shannon Jones, SunSmart Health Professionals Coordinator, Cancer Council Victoria; Liz King, Skin Cancer Prevention Manager, Cancer Council NSW; Roslyn McCulloch, Consumer; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Paige Preston, Policy Advisor, Cancer Prevention, Health and Wellbeing, Cancer Council Queensland; Dr Michael Wagels, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD. Thanks also to Sydney Melanoma Diagnostic Centre for providing the dysplastic naevus photograph, and to Prof H Peter Soyer for providing the other photographs. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.