How to self-check your skin

Health & Wellbeing -

Skin cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers, yet it is also one of the most easily detected and preventable cancers. When caught early enough, treatment is highly likely to be successful.

Skin cancer is primarily caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can be high all year round, even on overcast or cooler days. Skin protection is necessary all year-round and it’s not enough to protect yourself from the sun only on hot days.

New research1 from TAL has revealed that a staggering 8 out of 10 Australians said they would be more inclined to regularly self-check their skin if they were properly taught how to. However, although 92% of Australians admitted that self-checking their skin was important to them, only 39% said they know how to properly self-check their skin for signs of skin cancer.

If Australians took simple measures to protect their skin, the number of skin cancer cases in Australia would be significantly reduced.

Taking the time to get to know your own skin is a vital step towards detecting and preventing skin cancer.

Skin cancers appear in different shapes and sizes and it’s important to know the differences to spot the warning signs. If you see anything unusual, you should consult a professional right away.

Dr Priya Chagan, TAL’s General Manager, Health Services and Chief Medical Officer outlines the different types of skin cancer and provides some simple steps on how to self-check your skin:

There are three main types of skin cancer, the most serious being melanoma. Our skin is made up of cells: basal cells, squamous cells and melanocytes. The different types of skin cancer are named for the skin cell where the cancer develops: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are often grouped together and called non-melanoma skin cancer.

Types of skin cancer:

  1. Basal Cell Carcinoma
  2. Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is an uncontrolled, abnormal growth arising from the lower layer of the epidermis, or outer most layer of the skin. Accounting for 70% of non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia, BCCs are also the most common type of skin cancer. Often having no symptoms, they tend to grow slowly without spreading to other body parts.

    BCCs typically develop on areas that have higher exposure to the sun like your head, chest, shoulders and back. They appear as a lump that is often dry or scaly and they can look red, pale, or pearly in colour.

    When undetected a BCC will slowly grow and possibly ulcerate and appear like a sore that does not heal properly. If you notice any of these changes happening to your skin, you need to seek professional advice as soon as possible. If detected and treated early, BCCs are curable.

  3. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  4. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCCs) is the growth of abnormal cells from the upper layer of the epidermis, or outer most layer of the skin. Accounting for 30% of non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia, SCCs are the second most common type of skin cancer.

    SCCs will typically develop in areas where the skin often reveals signs of sun damage, such as wrinkles and age spots, on your chest, face, back and ears. They can appear like a thickened lump that may be red, scaly, and often easily bleed.

    SCCs are typically more dangerous than BCCs as they can spread to other parts of the body over time.

    When self-checking your skin, if you notice any lumps that appear to be thickened or bleed when bumped or scratched, make sure you book a professional skin check.

  5. Melanoma
  6. While the least common, Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer and can appear on parts of the body that aren’t exposed to the sun.

    Melanoma is a cancer that begins to develop in melanocytes, the skin cells that give your skin colour. When these cells develop DNA damage, which may be caused by UV light, these cells may grow out of control and can eventually form a mass of cancerous cells, which is called a melanoma.

    Melanoma can appear to be a mole or spot that has an irregular border, appears to get bigger, or has an uneven colour ranging from pink or red, to brown or black. The spots may also appear to be raised.

    Being familiar with your skin is an invaluable step towards prevention and detection, as melanoma can spread through the body into vital organs and lymph nodes. Detecting a melanoma in its early stages can significantly increase your chances of successful treatment.

Self-checking should be part of your health routine

Not all skin cancers look the same. They all appear differently depending on your skin type and there’s not “one” thing to look out for. Becoming familiar with your skin will help you notice changes as they happen.

A thorough self-examination of your skin should be a regular occurrence in your monthly routine. This is best done in a well-lit room, in front of a full-length mirror, so you can check your whole body, including the areas that are not directly exposed to the sun.

Using a handheld mirror can be a helpful way to look at the areas of your body that are hard to see. A family member, partner, or friend may be able to help you with these checks, especially for any areas which are hard to see. To check your scalp, it can be useful to use a blow dryer to expose each section.

Keep track of any spots, blemishes, freckles, and moles because while they may be harmless, if you notice them changing, you need to seek professional advice.

The SCAN Method: When self-checking your skin

SCAN Your Skin
The Skin Cancer College of Australasia recommends that once a month you use the “SCAN” method to look for spots or moles that are:

  • SORE - A spot which is sore (scaly, itchy, bleeding or tender) and doesn’t heal within 6 weeks
  • CHANGING - A spot that’s changed in appearance (size, shape, colour or texture)
  • ABNORMAL - A spot that looks different, feels different, or stands out when compared to other spots and moles
  • NEW - Any new spots that have recently appeared

Skin cancer is often referred to as ‘Australia’s cancer’, yet many Australians don’t understand the real risk it poses. Taking control of your own health and performing regular self-checks, to get familiar with how your skin looks, can save your life. And remember, if you see anything that is unusual or has changed, you should consult a health professional straight away.

The TAL SpotChecker program aims to raise awareness, educate, and encourage action amongst Australians when it comes to skin safety and preventative health more broadly.


  1. This research result is from a survey conducted by PureProfile on behalf of TAL, in October 2020, with a nationally representative sample of 1,001 respondents in Australia aged between 18-65+ years.


TAL SpotChecker

Early detection can save lives

For 5 years, TAL SpotChecker has been educating Australians about the importance of sun safety by encouraging conversations about the benefits of early detection, and the importance of both self-checking and getting regular, professional skin checks.

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