According to the Cancer Council, Australia has one of the highest incidences of skin cancer in the world, at nearly four times the rates in Canada, the US and the UK. Skin cancers account for 80% of all newly diagnosed cancers. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about skin cancer clinics.
Q: Are the doctors at skin cancer clinics specialists?
A: Most skin cancer clinic doctors (skin cancer physicians) in Australia are General Practitioners with a special interest in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.
Whilst most skin cancer clinic doctors cannot strictly speaking be called “specialists”, many will have often undertaken additional training in more advanced techniques in the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer similar to that received by dermatologists and plastic surgeons and unlike most GP’s, will dedicate their day to performing skin checks and treating skin cancer. This training takes the form of certificate and diploma level courses in dermatology and skin cancer up to Masters level qualifications such as the Master of Medicine (Primary Care Skin Cancer Medicine) offered at University of Queensland.
It should be noted that the vast majority of skin cancer in Australia is diagnosed and completely managed by General Practitioners (including those GP's with a special interest in skin cancer working in dedicated skin cancer clinics).
There are currently two membership organizations that represent skin cancer physicians, the Skin Cancer College of Australia and New Zealand (SCCANZ) formerly the Skin Cancer Society of Australia and the Australasian College of Skin Cancer Medicine (ACSCM). Many skin cancer clinic doctors are members of either or both Colleges. These groups provide standards, codes of conduct and education for their members.
Q: What's the difference between going to a skin cancer clinic versus seeing my GP or a dermatologist?
A: The main differences lie in the areas of access, cost and facilities. The waiting times to access dermatologists can vary, generally the wait to see a GP or a skin cancer clinic doctor will be shorter. Also, unlike seeing dermatologists, most GP’s and skin cancer clinics do not need a referral to access their services. Fees at skin cancer clinics also tend to be more like those charged by GP's rather than the higher fees typically charged by dermatologists. Some skin cancer clinics are equipped with special computerised skin cancer diagnostic tools and treatment options such as diathermy and photodynamic therapy (PDT) machines which most GP's and even some dermatologists do not have. Whilst many GP's are quite capable of performing a routine skin check and basic treatments, many will not necessarily have a special interest or any additional training in the diagnosis and treatment of more difficult skin cancers whereas skin cancer clinics tend to be a one stop shop.
Q: What are the benefits of using Computerised Skin Scanning Technology for skin checks?
A: Digital epiluminescence or computerised dermoscopy are the technical terms used for some of the sophisticated diagnostic tools used by many skin cancer clinics. The magnification provided by these tools is superior to simply using the naked eye or standard magnifying glasses (loupes). Doctors require special training to decipher the significance of the additional detail provided by higher magnification. The ability to store and compare images over time on the computer also allows doctors to objectively decide if a suspicious spot is actually changing resulting in less indiscriminate removal of suspicious but ultimately normal moles.
There is increasing research evidence suggesting that the use of these technologies are becoming the gold standard for skin cancer diagnosis. These advanced tools still currently require properly trained clinicians to interpret the images however in the near future there will likely be sophisticated software programs that will support the improved diagnosis of skin cancer.
Q: I've heard some negative things about skin cancer clinics. Should I be concerned?
A: Unfortunately, as in all industries and professions (including GP's, dermatologists and plastic surgeons), there have been a few cases of skin cancer clinics that have undeniably delivered poor service and quality of outcomes. As medical professionals whether GP's, skin cancer clinic doctors, dermatologists or plastic surgeons all are governed by the standards set out by the profession (usually the Medical Colleges) and regulated by the Medical Board. The vast majority of doctors working in the area of skin cancer deliver a reliable and quality service and have done so for decades. Skin cancer clinics simply provide dedicated and generally better equipped facilities to diagnose and treat skin cancers compared to some traditional General Practices.
It is advisable to do some research and asking around with any health practitioners you see. Ask about experience, training and the equipment employed to check your skin. Positive word of mouth from previous patients can also be a useful guide.
Q: Where can I find skin cancer clinics?
A: Click on the following locations to find a skin cancer clinic in your state or territory.