Types of moles – are you mole aware? As the sunshine breaks through the clouds and we start to spend more time outdoors, a little bit of sunshine can be good for our health and our mental wellbeing. However, the problems and dangers can arise when we’ve basked in it a little too generously.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and melanoma skin cancer is the most serious form and holds a dangerous high risk of spreading. Caught early it is easily treated but caught late, it can be fatal. It is therefore important we arm ourselves with the knowledge and tools we need in order to keep our skin and our health in tip-top condition.

Whether we like or dislike our moles, some people may have many whilst others have barely any and how we individually feel about them, shouldn’t let that put us off keeping an eye on them.

What causes skin cancer?

With an ever-growing desire to look good and healthy, many of us grab the chance to add a golden glow to our skin as soon as the sun peaks through the clouds in a bid to tan. However, most skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light damaging the DNA in our skin cells. With the main source of UV light coming from sunlight, taking precautions when outside is essential.

Although damage to the skin from the sun cannot be reversed, you can take steps to prevent yourself from further damage. Seek shade, in particular between the hours of 11am to 3pm and especially avoiding the midday sun, follow common sun safety advice, such as wearing sunscreen with a high SPF and UVA rating and avoid burning at all costs.

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Why? Melanoma skin cancer – the most serious form of skin cancer – although not exclusively, is caused by sunburn. According to Cancer Research UK, in the UK, around 85 out of 100 melanomas (around 85%) are caused by too much ultraviolet radiation[1].

Despite being more common with increasing age, melanoma is actually disproportionately high in younger people and melanoma is now the 5th most common cancer in the UK and there are around 16,200 new melanoma cases in the UK every year. Incidence rates for melanoma skin cancer are projected to rise by 7% in the UK between 2014 and 2035, to 32 cases per 100,000 people by 2035[2].

Check yourself regularly to monitor changes in your skin

This is why it is paramount we check ourselves as often as we can to monitor for any changes on our skin.

When it comes to developing skin cancer, there are some people who are at higher risk; people with skin type 1 – individuals who always burn and never tan and often have red hair and freckles – or type 2 – individuals who usually burn and tan minimally, they have fair skin and hair -, those with 100+ moles, a personal history or family history of melanoma or with many atypical moles, patients who are immunosuppressed and those with a history of sunbeds and / or sunburn are also at a higher risk.

However, that’s not to say that if you don’t identify with any of these categories that you don’t need to be vigilant when out in the sun. Whenever our skin changes colour, this is due to the cells in our body changing to try and protect us from harmful UV rays from the sun. So even if you’re not suffering from sun burn, your skin is still showing signs of damage. Even if you have darker skin, you should also be aware though your skin might not look affected, damage can still be taking place.

It’s also a common misconception that in the UK, we don’t need as high of a factor sunscreen as we would if abroad. This is not true. Even when it is a cloudy day, UV rays can penetrate through the clouds and although clouds do reduce UV, they do not eradicate it.

Types of moles – what to look out for

This is why at The MOLE Clinic, we recommend yearly mole checks and regular self-monitoring, especially after spending continued time out in the sun. Melanoma can appear initially as an unusual, new or changing mole and early detection saves lives, therefore following the ‘ABCDEFG Rule’ is key:

A – Asymmetry: Look for moles that are asymmetrical in shape, where one half of the mole is unlike the other.

B – Border: Does the mole have an irregular border? Is it scalloped, jagged or poorly defined?

C – Colour and Comparison: Does the mole have more than one colour and does the mole look different to your other moles?

D – Diameter: Check the diameter of the mole to see if it is bigger than 7mm (about the size of the end of a pencil). However, most skin cancer start off smaller than this and it is important to check for any lesion that is new, changing or unusual, regardless of size.

E – Evolving: Is the mole evolving or changing size shape or colour?

EFG: Is the skin lesion all of elevated, firm to touch and growing in a sustained manner?

If you are able to answer ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, it would be sensible and advised to have the mole checked by your GP or by a skin specialist such as The MOLE Clinic.

Get checked by a professional

However, with reports of three million people in the UK having missed out on cancer screenings since the start of the pandemic, resulting in 350,000 people not being referred to hospital for urgent checks, according to research from Cancer Research UK[3], it’s vital those worried about a suspicious mole take the appropriate steps to get their moles examined.

Although most moles are harmless and will look the same for years, that shouldn’t be a reason to not get checked at least one a year by a professional or if you have any worries or concern about a new or changing mole. Reacting early really can save lives.

At The MOLE Clinic we have introduced two new online At Home Services – one by screening Nurse and one by skin doctors. Providing an online mole screening service for adults worried about a mole and who are unable to visit The MOLE Clinic, or another skin specialist in person, the At Home Services can provide fast and welcome reassurance when it is needed most and help to lower the UK skin cancer mortality rate. For more information, visit The MOLE Clinic now.

Article by Dr Tim Cunliffe, Skin Specialist at The MOLE Clinic, Skin Cancer Lead for the Department of Dermatology at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

[1] https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/melanoma/risks-causes
[2] https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/melanoma-skin-cancer#heading-Zero
[3] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/health/cancer-checks-three-million-miss-out-coronavirus-a4568771.html
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