‘My pimple could’ve killed me’
WARNING: Graphic images
ONCE upon a time, Jess Pasco probably would have ignored the little pimple under her nose.
When it disappeared but left a small patch of dry redness behind, the 32-year-old might not have thought much about it.
But her shock experience with melanoma just a year earlier meant she took herself to the doctor to have it looked at, just to be safe.
Good thing, too. That harmless pimple turned out to be a potentially serious skin cancer called a Basal Cell Carcinoma.
"A year earlier, I wouldn't have known what you're meant to look for," Ms Pasco told news.com.au.
"Like most people, I thought skin cancer was just a black mole. If I wasn't conscious like I am now, I wouldn't have thought anything of it and would've ignored it."
Left too long, it could have developed into a far more aggressive cancer and eventually spread throughout her body.
She caught it early but it was far from a walk in the park for the Perth-based public servant, who had a reaction to the treatment process.
"When you have a skin cancer on your face, cutting it out isn't really preferable. It can leave a pretty big scar. So I was given this cream for eight weeks that basically gets your immune system to attack the cancer.
"I had a severe reaction. It was a massive sore - much bigger than the cancer itself. It was really red, painful pus-filled. I had it for probably four months."
As uncomfortable as it made her and despite all of the questions it prompted, Ms Pasco said it was much better than the alternative.
Barely 12 months earlier, she was at her GP for a check-up when she decided to ask him about an odd-looking freckle on her leg.
"I was living in Melbourne for uni a while before that and noticed a freckle that had grown and changed colour, but I didn't really do anything about it.
"The doctor told me if I was concerned, I could have it cut out there and then. I had a few stitches but they didn't take, which is apparently a sign of cancer."
Biopsy results revealed it was a level three melanoma, the stage before it spreads elsewhere in the body, and would have to be completely removed.
Dr Sally Phillips from life insurance specialist TAL said more than 70 per cent of Australians don't know the warning signs of skin cancer.
"Skin cancers can present in many forms. It can be a sore, itching, scaly skin, tenderness, an odd freckle, a mole that changes in size or colour … there are many signs," Dr Phillips said.
"We know that we have to do preventive things - the slip, slop, slap message - but I think the message has to be more about early detection. It hasn't gotten through."
Research commissioned by TAL found just 36 per cent of people have had a skin check in the past 12 months, while 30 per cent have never had one.
Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before they are 70, but 45 per cent are not aware of how prevalent it is.
"Our research has shown that people think it's a difficult thing to do and they don't know where to go. The perceived cost is an issue for some," Dr Phillips said.
There's also a perception that getting a check is time consuming or inconvenient.
"But really, it's a 15-minute appointment and it's so easy, and most of the time the cost is covered by Medicare.
"There are things we can do ourselves, like standing in front of a mirror once a month for 10 minutes and getting to know our skin. And once a year, you should get to a GP or a skin cancer clinic for a thorough check."
The survival rate for early stage melanoma is 98 per cent, but that figure slumps to less than 50 per cent for stage four skin cancers.
"Fifteen minutes can save your life and save you so much grief as well."
- This summer, TAL is running free pop-up skin screenings at beaches across the country in a bid to raise awareness of the importance of regular checks.
- The TAL SpotChecker begins its national tour at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast this weekend, before moving on to Cottesloe Beach in Perth, Harold and Cynthia Anderson Reserve in Adelaide, and St Kilda Beach in March in January.
- For more details and to sign up for a scan, visit tal.com.au/tal-spotchecker