MOOLOOLABA doctor Krzysztof Cichocki's heart breaks when he remembers the day he told a 23-year-old he had skin cancer.
The man, described as a lively world traveller, was diagnosed with a stage-four melanoma on his back.
He had the lump, which grew under a pale freckle, for six months.
By the time he made an appointment with Dr Cichocki, the cancer had spread throughout his body. The man died 12 months later.
Dr Cichocki said the diagnosis was the worst news he had had to deliver in his 10-year career, although he had had to repeat the words to about 36 more people since.
"It certainly was a tear-squeezing experience, but I guess it makes my job more important," he said.
"My job is to find it early, and remove it so that everyone can carry on with their lives. If it is a late presentation, no matter how much skin is removed, the melanoma may have already spread."
More than 2700 Australians will be diagnosed with melanoma skin cancer and 450 more will die this summer.
It is the most common cancer in Australia. About 11,000 Aussies will be affected by the disease and 1800 of those people will die as a result.
Dr Cichocki said he told an average 12 people a year they had skin cancer and many of were diagnosed under unsuspecting freckles or moles.
"There is no clear indication of what is and what is not a melanoma," he said.
"It simply could look like a normal freckle.
"You really do need experience to diagnose skin cancer. Many of the patients I see get a shock at what is a dangerous lesion."
Fair complexion, red hair, freckles, family history and regular exposure to the sun have been recognised as factors which increase a person's chance of melanoma.
Dr Martin Haskett, from MoleMap skin cancer clinics, said Aussies should see a specialist as soon as they found a concerning mole or lesion.
"Australians very much have an attitude that it won't happen to them," Dr Haskett said.
"People who continue to ignore specialist advice are quite literally gambling with their life."
THE TRUTH HURTS
- Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in Australia.
- It affects about 11,000 Australians a year.
- About 1800 Australians die from skin cancer each year.
HOW TO AVOID SKIN CANCER
- Apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going outside.
- Ensure the skin is well covered. About 30ml of sunscreen is needed for an average adult in each full body application.
- Avoid sun exposure to the summer sun by seeking shade between 11am and 4pm during daylight saving months.
- A hat, loose-sleeved clothing and sunglasses should be worn when shade can't be found.