Some of us have hardly any moles whilst others have many. Moles that look abnormal may be harboring skin cancer therefore it is important to have them checked regularly. Sudden changes in the size or shape of a mole should be reported to your Consultant immediately.
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Who is at risk of skin cancer?
Individuals at high risk of skin cancer have:
- Fair skin
- Blue or green eyes
- Red or blond hair
- Previous sun burns
- Tendency to sun burn
- Excessive sun exposure and sun bed use
- Family history of skin cancer
What types of skin cancer are there?
Broadly speaking, there are two types of skin cancers - melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma are skin cancers that arise from moles. They are least common but the most serious type of skin cancer. They affect young adults more frequently than other cancers and are the second most common cancer in those aged 15 to 34 years of age.
What are the signs of melanoma?
Fortunately, the chance of cure is high if melanoma is diagnosed early. Early diagnosis can only occur if individuals who have moles that could be melanoma see their doctor to get their mole checked. The features you should look out for in your moles to help identify possible melanoma are...
- Asymmetry - normal moles are often symmetrical. In fact, if you split the mole in half, one half is a mirror image of the other half. Melanomas are asymmetrical and one half is usually different from the other half.
- Border Irregularity - normal moles usually have a smooth rounded outline that is sharp and easy to see. Melanomas frequently have jaggedy edges that are not rounded, and sometimes the outline is not sharp and it becomes difficult to see where the mole ends.
- Colour Irregularity - normal moles usually have one even colour. Melanomas usually have multiple shades of brown and can have other colours too including black, red and white.
- Development & Change - this is arguably the most important feature and the one that can help pick up and early melanoma sooner. A mole that is growing or one that changes in colour and shape, is probably the most important type of mole to ask your doctor to check. Melanomas grow and change over a period of months, where as normal moles do not change at this rate, sometimes not changing at all. Typically, moles that re melanoma first become darker and blotchy, developing several shades of brown and black. They then grow outwards to becomes wider and finally they thicken and becomes raised. They may or may not bleed or itch at this stage.
What are the signs of non-melanoma skin cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancers are usually not brown or black like moles and melanoma. They are usually pink or red spots or lumps that grow. They may also bleed and scab and they never heal. Eventually they may cause pain and discomfort.
- Basal cell carcinoma (rodent ulcer): Most basal cell carcinomas are painless. People often become aware of them as a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some basal cell carcinomas are very superficial and look like a scaly flat red mark. Others show a white pearly rim surrounding a central crater.. If left for years, the latter type can erode the skin, eventually causing an ulcer, hence the name 'rodent ulcer'. Other basal cell carcinomas are quite lumpy, with one or more shiny nodules crossed by small but easily seen blood vessels.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: A squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as a scaly or crusty area of skin, with a red, inflamed base. It may look like an irritated wart, or break down to form a bleeding ulcer. Most small squamous cell carcinomas are not painful, but pain in a growing lump is a suspicious sign of squamous cell carcinoma. They occur most often on the head, neck, ears, lips, back of the hands and forearms.
What should I do next?
Please don't hesitate to arrange an appointment with one of our consultant dermatologists if you have any troublesome or worrying moles, lumps or blemishes, or if you would like a comprehensive 'top-to-toe' mole check and screen for skin cancer.
At The Westbourne Centre, we'll check all of your moles and document any you should be keeping a watchful eye on. Using microscopes, our consultant dermatologists are able to determine if a worrisome mole is in need of histology to verify its melanomin state.
Please note that patients who are at a high risk of skin cancer should have their skin checked annually.
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