Aussie mum's warning after stubborn spot dismissed as nothing by GPs leads to nightmare cancer diagnosis

Kate Bourke and her daughter, the SCC on her cheek
Photo credit: Kate Bourke / Facebook, via 7News

With the warm weather inching ever closer, an Australian mum is warning others to take their sun protection seriously this summer after a small but stubborn spot on her nose led to a nightmare diagnosis.   

It was about three years ago when Queensland mum-of-one Kate Bourke, 34, first noticed a small, discoloured mark on her nose. The spot resembled a "blocked pore", she told 7News, and was "raised and ugly".   

As well as disliking its appearance, the stubborn mark also rung alarm bells for Bourke, who as a fair-skinned redhead, had always taken her sun safety seriously. Concerned the spot could be something more sinister, she sought advice from two GPs, who both inspected the mark and told her it was nothing to worry about.  

Armed with the knowledge that the mark was supposedly benign, Bourke went ahead and booked into a clinic to have it removed due to cosmetic concerns. It was there, however, she discovered the spot was not just an innocuous mark, but a basal cell carcinoma (BCC) - a common type of skin cancer.  

"I am not blaming GPs. They have so much to remember and have so many people to see," Bourke told 7News. "But if you have something on your skin that you're worried about, go to a specialist."  

As the clinic she had booked with specialised in skin cancer, Bourke recalled that her clinician almost immediately identified the mark as a BCC. After initially protesting that two GPs had both dismissed her concerns, Bourke's spot was removed and biopsied - which conclusively returned a skin cancer diagnosis.  

The BCC was successfully removed, despite leaving behind a small scar. However, it wasn't the last brush Bourke would have with the disease.  

A short while later, the now 34-year-old noticed a small mark on her cheek that was pink like a pimple, but not raised. Instead, she described its appearance as "almost a bit scabby" - nothing like the spot she'd previously had on her nose.  

The pink patch "kept coming and going" for about a year or two, Bourke told 7News, recalling that each time she would begin to worry, the mark would disappear - only to re-emerge in the same spot sometime later.  

Having had enough of the mark's disappearing act, Bourke went to see a specialist, who took a biopsy of the skin for testing. Bourke was subsequently told the "pimple-like" spot was a squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC) - another form of skin cancer.  

Bourke is now required to apply a topical chemotherapy cream daily for a four-week period to destroy the SCC, as there is a high risk of it spreading to other areas of the skin. She will then have a two-week break before beginning another four weeks of treatment: the next steps after the second round are yet to be determined.  

As a mum to an eight-month-old daughter, Bourke is hoping her experience will encourage more parents to prioritise sun safety, as well as regular skin exams or screenings. 

"Watch your skin closely," she said. "If you are ever worried about something, go to a specialist."  

According to New Zealand's Cancer Society, skin cancers are the most common cancers diagnosed in Aotearoa New Zealand. A BCC is the most common type of skin cancer: the growth is typically pink, may bleed or itch, and tends to remain confined to its local area, although they are potentially more dangerous on the face.  

SCC is more serious, as the cancer can spread to the lymph glands. The growths are often scaly, can be tender, and typically arise from sunspots.  

Skin cancer can look like a crusty sore that is not healing; small lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour; new or existing spots or moles changing in colour, thickness or shape; or a dry, scaly area that is shiny and pale or bright pink in colour.  

According to recent statistics, New Zealand currently has the world's highest rate of melanoma diagnoses, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. More than 6000 melanomas are diagnosed in New Zealand annually and around 300 Kiwis will die from the cancer each year. Meanwhile, an estimated 90,000 non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed every year, with an estimated healthcare cost of $129.4 million.