For the last couple of years I have been putting off going for one of those skin cancer checkups. The main reason I kept putting it off was the cost which is around $NZ350+. While i have lots of small flat moles on my body, I haven’t had any that I have been concerned with. Then recently I developed a sore on the side of my face which wasn’t healing. It would start to heal and then I would knock it and it would bleed and go back to square 1. I decided I needed to get it checked but rather than go to a GP I thought I would take this ‘opportunity’ to also get a mole map done. A mole map is when you go to see a specialist (usually a qualified dermatologist or specialist GP) and they use a high scoped camera to examine and photograph every mole on your body.
I looked through the options in my area and had 2 options to decide between. One was a full mole map where they photograph every single mole on your body in a 1 hour consultation. Then you go back every year to check if any of the moles have significantly changed, and if there are any new ones. The cost of this was $379. The other option I looked at was to go to a specialist GP, Dr Sakkie Fourie to have a mole map done. The 25 minute examination includes inspection of all moles with Dr Fourie only photographing ones of concern. He uses the DermDoc MoleMax system which magnifies moles up to 100 times allowing for good inspection of suspicious moles.
I opted to go to Dr Fourie as the cost was $150 which was more affordable than the other option, with similar benefits. The consultation went well, and Dr Fourie photographed several moles of interest on my body and saved them in his system so that when I return in 1 year, he can check to see if any of the moles has changed in size or shape. Thankfully, I had no moles of immediate concern. However, back to that lesion on my face – I asked him about it and he agreed to take a biopsy to send it away for analysis.
A week later the biopsy returned with the result ‘Basal Cell Cancer’. I had never had one and knew nothing about it but was told it was not as bad as a melanoma and that it is a superficial skin cancer that does need to be removed as it can get bigger over time and destroy cell tissue. It is the least worrisome cancer and the most benign (least dangerous). This type of cancer doesn’t spread but once you have had one you are at higher risk of developing more so its more important than ever to slip, slop, slap! I have now been referred to a plastic surgeon to get the lesion removed. It is in a delicate spot because there is a nerve behind it that if damaged can cause my eyebrow to sag so definitely one for the specialists. As I have mentioned before in other articles, this is another instance where I am thankful I have private health insurance so that I can bypass the lengthy public hospital system wait time and get this sorted to reasonably quickly. Interestingly, even the plastic surgeons have a 2-3 month wait due to the high number of skin cancer cases they are currently dealing with.
Skin cancer is the most common form of skin cancer in the United States and most developed countries. If you are over 40, I highly recommend getting a mole map done, especially if you have moles you are concerned about. If you have a mole greater than 6mm, go and get it checked as soon as possible. And to avoid getting skin cancer, here are some good guidelines to adhere to:
- Avoid too much time in the sun. Seek shade and wear protective clothing when possible. This is the best non-toxic way of avoiding UV exposure. A hat with a wide brim and tight-weave cotton clothing is good.
- If you are on a mountain or on snow, take extra care as the UV can be much higher.
- Avoid the sun in peak sun hours between 10am and 4pm.
- Apply zinc oxide sunscreen and one which has few artificial ingredients.
[Edit] Since this article was written I have now had the melanoma removed. Go to this post to read all about it!