Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK – if you'd like some help assessing your moles, our first-hand review gives you the lowdown
I don’t have lots of them, but as a fair-skinned female who will admit to having used the occasional sunbed in my twenties, I really should be checking the moles
and freckles I do have on a regular basis.
While I do look at them at times, it’s really just a second glance as opposed to a critical inspection.
According to Cancer Research UK, skin cancer
is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and there are 44 new melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK every day. Not only that, around three million people have missed out on cancer checks due to the Covid pandemic.
With this in mind, checking your moles regularly should be regarded as important as a regular breast or testicle check, in order to detect skin cancer as early as possible.
There are two types of moles we should be keeping an eye on as a precaution against skin cancer – ‘visually abnormal’ and ‘new or changing moles.’ Most moles are harmless, but sometimes they can develop into a rare skin cancer called malignant melanoma
It’s important to know how to check your moles yourself, to recognise when there is cause for concern, and the main warning signs of something more sinister.
The easiest way to check is to follow the ‘ABCDE’ rule: A – Asymmetry:
Is the mole or skin lesions asymmetrical in shape, where one half of the mole is unlike the other? B – Border:
Check for an irregular border on your mole. Is it scalloped, poorly defined or jagged? C – Colour & Comparison:
Is there more than one colour in your mole and does it look visibly different to your other moles? D – Diameter:
Is the diameter of your mole bigger than 7mm, which is about the size of the end of a pencil? However, please bear in mind that most skin cancer starts smaller than this and it is important to check any lesion that is new, changing or unusual regardless of size. E – Evolving:
Is the mole or lesion evolving or changing size shape or colour?
If you’re able to answer yes to any of the above, it is advised to have your mole or lesion checked by your GP or a skin specialist.
To recap, when checking your moles at home, look for any mole or skin lesion that is new or visibly changing. Look for moles that might have an unusual shape such as irregular edges, asymmetry, have more than one colour (such as being pink, red, pink, brown and black) and have grown in size.
One thing a doctor or skin cancer specialist will look for is what is known as an ‘ugly duckling’ – this is something you can also do at home. An ‘ugly duckling’ is a mole that is easily notifiable as being different from your other moles and skin lesions.
Taking the above points on board, you want to look out for these changes – a new or changing mole, varying colours, irregular border – but also look for any moles that might scab, ooze, bleed or are easily irritated.
Don’t forget to check your entire body as well. Although it is more common for men to have a
cancerous mole on their back and women on their legs, a cancerous mole can appear anywhere.
To make checking your body as easy as possible, try to be in well-lit room and have a mirror to hand so you can examine hard to reach / see areas such as your scalp, behind your ears, the soles of your feet and in-between your toes.
If you aren't confident doing a check or would like a second opinion on a new or existing mole, the other option is to visit a mole screening service.
With locations UK-wide, The Mole Clinic offers screening, diagnosis, removal and biopsy of moles, so I made an appointment to have a long overdue full body skin check.
My appointment began with Caroline, a specialist nurse, asking me some questions to determine my personal risk for skin cancer. These included my sun exposure history, any family melanomas, previous sunbed usage, sunburn history, if I'd ever lived abroad and what factor sunscreen I normally use.
I then removed my clothing down to my underwear, in order for the nurse to examine my visible moles
and identify any which might be abnormal - this was very thorough and included the soles of my feet.
If a visually abnormal mole is found, a rapid expert diagnosis by a specialist doctor with a report and biopsy if required can be arranged.
On inspection, nurse Caroline identified two small moles (on my inner wrist and bra line) which in her opinion, required further assessment. She arranged for a dermascopic assessment by a specialist, with a report to follow a few days later.
While the primary diagnosis for both my moles was benign, the dermascopic assessment report, along with revealing my personal risk for melanoma, also requested a re-image of the mole on my wrist. This was in order to determine whether the mole was changing, before making a final diagnosis.
Following this advice, I booked in for a single mole report follow-up which costs £30 per mole – a small price to pay for peace of mind.
The good news is that the mole on my wrist has been confirmed as benign, however I will follow the advice and keep an eye on it. It was also recommended that my bra line mole be re-imaged in three months time.
Additional preventative advice included self-examining and photographing
my moles and freckles at least every three months, along with protecting skin from excessive UV when required by covering up and using a sun protection factor
(SPF) of 20 to 30 and 5 star UV protection.
And if I do notice any suspect, new or changing moles, I’ll contact the clinic as soon as possible as skin cancers can appear at any time, and early detection can save lives.
If you notice a change in the colour, size or shape of an existing mole you can also ask your GP to examine it and, if necessary, refer you for further tests.Rebecca visited The Mole Clinic in London – for your nearest clinic, for more information or to book an appointment, visit themoleclinic.co.uk