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The Selfie That Saved Me From Skin Cancer

An Aussie mother is warning others to be vigilant about keeping an eye on changes to their skin after a selfie with friends led to a shock skin cancer diagnosis. 

Her message comes as new research revealed women, in particular, aren't taking their own advice when it comes to skin safety.

Nine weeks after undergoing surgery to remove several skin cancers, Sydney mum Cate Gray said she is still "astounded" by what happened to her.

Gray, in her 50s, said she has been the "dag on the beach" for as long as she can remember, covered in sunscreen and always wearing a hat and sunglasses.

Growing up outdoors, playing tennis and doing nippers at the beach, she learnt early to live by the 'slip, slop, slap' message.

"It would be hard to find a photo of me without a hat or sunnies!" she told 10 daily. 

Gray said she is adamant about checking her skin. But when she spotted two symmetrical bumps on either side of her nose this year, she didn't take much notice.

Things changed when Cate Gray took a selfie with her friend in April this year. Image: Supplied

"I thought they were blocked pores, so I put on some pimple cream," Gray told 10 daily.

It had been a couple of years since Gray had seen a dermatologist. But she felt no reason to raise the alarm.

That all changed when Gray and her friend took a selfie on their way to lunch in April.

"We zoomed in on it, and noticed the little bumps. Then my girlfriends decided I needed to see somebody," she said.

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After receiving a barrage of texts from her girlfriends, Gray said she decided to take their advice and booked in to see a dermatologist.

About two weeks later, she found out the little bumps were malignant basal cell carcinoma (BCC) -- a type of skin cancer. A third BCC was found underneath her eyelashes.

BCC accounts for about 70 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancers and commonly develops on parts of the body that receive high or intermittent sun exposure, according to the Cancer Council.

In most cases, they're not life-threatening and can be removed with biopsy or surgery.

Gray had surgery in September and is recovering well. While her approach to sun safety has not changed, she said she is more aware of having her skin checked.

Gray, pictured eight days following her surgery. Image: Supplied

Skin cancer is the third most common cancer among Australians, with two in three Aussies to be diagnosed before they turn 70.

It is also one of the most easily detectable cancers.

There are concerns Australians aren't taking enough preventative action when it comes to skin safety. Image: Getty

WOMEN LESS PROACTIVE ABOUT SKIN CHECKS

Research from TAL, an Australian life insurance specialist, found that women are less proactive at getting skin checks than men.

The survey of just over 1000 people, released on Saturday, found 32 per cent of women have never had a professional skin check compared to a quarter of men, despite 64 per cent of women admitting they would encourage a loved one to get one.

According to the research, 87 per cent of female respondents have not had a skin check in the past 12 months.

TAL General Manager of Health Services, Dr Sally Phillips said while all Australians have a natural tendency to look out for their loved ones, that doesn't always extend to themselves.

"The research found that a lack of time is a contributing factor to not getting checked," she said.

For the fourth year, TAL will this summer be offering free skin checks at some of Australia's iconic beaches.

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When it comes to prevention, the Cancer Council Australia encourages the general population to check their own skin regularly instead of relying on annual skin checks.

"There is no evidence that skin checks save lives from the disease, or that they are cost-effective," Heather Walker, the head of Cancer Council Australia’s national skin cancer committee told 10 daily. 

For most Australians, it should be about becoming familiar with your skin, looking our for any changes and seeing your GP as soon as any changes occur.

The Cancer Council encourages people who are higher risk -- those with fairer skin or a family or personal history of melanoma or skin cancer -- to develop a surveillance plan with your GP.

But the TAL research found one in five Aussies aren't self-checking their skin for signs of cancer, with about 56 per cent of them saying they didn't know how.

The Cancer Council is this year focusing their campaign on encouraging teens to be sun smart. Image: Getty

This year, the Cancer Council focused its awareness campaign on teenagers, with new research showing one in four teens are still getting sunburnt on summer weekends.

“Teenagers are a priority population. They spend lots of time outdoors and not enough are adopting sun protection behaviours," spokeswoman Anita Dessaix said earlier this month.

“The damage caused in the teenage years also significantly increases the risks of skin cancer in later life."

But Walker said parents also tend to put their sun protection needs below their kids.

"As a parent, you’re a role model. We know kids mimic and copycat, and that role is so important," she said. 

Gray agreed, admitting while she had encouraged her loved ones -- including her husband -- to get skin checks, that her own judgement may have "lapsed".

"I think that's honestly the nature of sometimes being a mother; that you are the last priority," she said. 

About nine weeks following her surgery, Gray is healing well. Image: Supplied

She added others, including friends and family, can be powerful in noticing changes, and encouraged observers to speak up.

HOW TO CHECK YOUR SKIN FOR CHANGES

To learn how to check your own skin the Cancer Council uses the following guide:

Asymmetry: If the spot or lesion is divided in half, the two halves are not a mirror image

Border: A spot with a spreading or irregular edge

Colour: A spot with a number of different colours through it

Diameter: A spot that is growing and changing in diameter or size

Contact the author ebrancatisano@networkten.com.au