Number of locals getting skin cancer ‘crazy’: Health worker
AN EXPLOSION in the number of skin cancer examinations has two Lismore clinics struggling to keep up with patient demand.
Dr Kristin Johnston of Lismore’s Prema House Medical Centre said she had examined about 360 patients since she started at the centre in November.
The Canadian-trained GP and skin specialist with 16 years’ experience said 75% of the patients she had examined at Lismore had a pre-cancer lesion.
“I’m shocked at how many patients are coming back positive for skin cancer because in Canada most of the skin checks you do come back benign,” she said.
“Australia has a rate of two to three times the number of skin cancers I would see in Canada, but I would say the rate is even higher than that in Lismore.”
Dr Johnston said the region’s abundance of sunshine could be behind the number of Northern Rivers people overexposing themselves to the sun, which is the cause of 97% of melanomas.
However, she said the prognosis for most patients was good because people from the Northern Rivers were vigilant in getting regular skin checks.
“In Australia, melanomas are being picked up much earlier than many other countries,” Dr Johnston said.
“For melanoma that is so important because if you pick it up early the survival rate is 90% to 100%, but if you pick it up late the survival rate is 15% to 20% at five years.”
Dr Johnston said people who had not had cancer before should get skin checks yearly, but if they have had cancer they should get tested every three to six months, depending on what type of cancer they had.
“Wear a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves, wear sunglasses, wear sunscreen and avoid the sun in the middle of the day from about 11am to 2pm,” she said.
Prema House assistant in nursing Wendy Ryder, herself a melanoma sufferer, said staff at the Lismore Skin Cancer and Mole Clinic were forced to turn away about 300 patients a month, such was the demand for the clinic’s services.
Mrs Ryder said she believed children should start getting skin cancer checks from the age of 10.
“The amount of people who are getting melanomas and basal skin carcinomas in this area is crazy,” she said.
“Education in schools about sun exposure is vital and there needs to be a stronger message about the dangers of skin cancer taught to our children.”