If you have noticed a suspicious mole, you might be wondering where the best place to be checked is – a skin cancer clinic, your doctor, or a dermatologist? There isn’t just one answer to this, since all three options have standards in place for detecting skin cancers, however each destination has its own benefits.
A dermatologist can sometimes seem the less obvious option, since skin cancer clinics are spread around the country and you may already have a relationship with your doctor, who may bulk bill. You may not have a dermatologist that you frequent or waiting lists for good ones via referral may be long – longer than you can spare when checking a suspicious mole.
The reason dermatologists are an excellent option for getting your skin checked for cancer and suspicious moles is that skin is all dermatologists do. Their specific medical training is that of your local GP plus specific skin-related training.
This is not to say that your GP or a skin cancer clinic cannot diagnose and treat your skin cancer. They can. There is no evidence to suggest that either a skin cancer clinic or a GP have any greater or less success rates when diagnosing and treating skin cancers, but a dermatologist can add an extra level of expertise straight off the bat.
The person you see at a skin cancer clinic may be a doctor, but they are unlikely to be a dermatologist.
How to skip the queues at the dermatologist
Having an annual check-up already booked at your dermatologist is a smart plan, to avoid waiting lists and to be completely on top of your skin health. You can ask any questions you like at your appointment, and learn more about various skin conditions you may have that don’t just involve skin cancer. Think of regular dermatologist visits like you would your car being serviced – regular, thorough, and preventative.
How good are doctors and skin cancer clinics at finding cancers?
Research has offered us some insights into whether doctors and skin cancer clinics are any good at finding melanomas. Unfortunately, the research didn’t include dermatologists, so there is no comparison there.
What the research revealed was that doctors and skin cancer clinics can detect regular skin cancer correctly about half the time, but only get it right when it comes to melanoma five per cent of the time. This may seem extraordinarily low detection rates, but melanomas are quite hard to detect at the best of times, even for a skilled dermatologist.
Skin cancer and melanoma skin cancers are not the same thing, with melanomas being the deadly type of skin cancer, while regular skin cancers are completely treatable. This is why so many skin lesions are simply cut out – just to be on the safe side. The lesions are subsequently tested, so we only know the results after an educated guess has been made on the sample.
Most dermatologists run private clinics where some elements of some appointments can utilise Medicare rebates (but it is not bulk billed), like ENRICH Clinic in Melbourne. Dermatology clinics have the latest technology, usually more so than any skin cancer clinic or a GP, and a dermatologist is likely to have more experience in treating skin lesions effectively.