After undergoing extensive surgery on his right foot earlier this year, Jason Schulze is heading back under the knife after he noticed something unnerving above his ankle near the long scar of his operation.
The 47-year-old Melbourne man tends to get his skin checked every year but had been delaying his trip to his dermatologist because of his foot reconstruction operation.
“He gave me a reminder this year which is weird because I’ve never had a reminder before,” Mr Schulze said.
He had noticed a mole changing shape in recent months and eventually organised a check up to get it looked at.
“He thought it was a melanoma straight away,” Mr Schulze recalled.
“What I thought was a freckle, I’ve had that now for at least 10 to 15 years.”
The melanoma had spread about three layers deep into his skin but had yet to reach fat cells in his body, meaning it was likely the doctor had caught it before it could turn deadly.
“It’s a fair way down... Another six months and that would’ve been quite life threatening,” Mr Schulze said.
The former Navy man who served on deployments to the Middle East now has another surgery planned to cut the mole out, but his doctor still wants a second opinion to make sure nothing cancerous has spread.
Mr Schulze was keen to share his experience to encourage other men to make sure they are getting regular skin check-ups, particularly given the high prevalence of skin cancer in Australia.
“It’s crazy that we don’t take it more seriously,” he said. “Here’s the perfect example of just a small spot that I noticed change.”
‘Almost a million treatments a year’
There are three main types of skin cancer. While melanomas are the rarest, they’re also the deadliest.
“That’s the one people think of when they think of skin cancer,” says Heather Walker, the Chair of the National Skin Cancer Committee at the Cancer Council Australia.
The other two, named after the cells they affect, are known as Basal cell carcinomas and Squamous cell carcinomas. They are much more common but less deadly.
“We might see around 15,000 cases a year of melanomas,” Ms Walker said. “But almost a million treatments for other skin cancers a year in Australia.”
Melanomas can become deadly in weeks
The spots to really look out for are a category of melanomas known as ‘nodular’ that are raised above the skin in an “almost domed shape”. A mole like that could prove particularly lethal.
But even if you are getting annual skin check-ups, that might not be enough to prevent the spread of skin cancer.
“A melanoma can become deadly in a matter of weeks,” Ms Walker explained.
If you have a family history of melanomas, have fair skin, or have a history of particularly bad sunburns or solarium use, then you might have heightened risk.
“Because of our high UV environment, we definitely have the unenviable title of having the highest rate of melanomas in the world, along with New Zealand,” Ms Walker said.
In order to best protect yourself, it’s a good idea to regularly check your skin and keep an eye on any changes to freckles and moles.
“The best advice is to get to know your own skin and if you notice anything go and get it checked,” Ms Walker said.
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