Home Lifestyle How to spot the signs of skin cancer

How to spot the signs of skin cancer

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Do you know the warning signs? (Picture: Getty Images)

Skin cancer diagnoses have hit a record high in the UK.

A staggering 20,800 people are expected to be diagnosed with melanoma this year in the UK, according to new findings by Cancer Research.

Rates of melanoma have increased by almost a third over a decade, from 21 to 28 per 100,000 people from 2009 to 2019.

Among those aged 80 or over, there was a 57% rise, while among 25 to 49-year-olds, there was a 7% increase.

Despite these ever-increasing rates, the UK charity believes 17,000 melanoma cases every year are preventable, with almost nine in 10 caused by too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Anyone can get skin cancer, and it’s expected that a huge 26,500 of us will be receiving a diagnosis each year by 2040, meaning we need to be diligent when it comes to spotting the warning signs.

Yes, we might live in the UK where it’s miserable most days, but the sun can still do significant damage, whether you’re out and about here or abroad.

What are the signs of skin cancer?

Symptoms of melanoma include a change to a mole, freckle or a normal patch of skin, but how do we know if it’s something to be concerned about?

It’s important you get anything concerning checked with urgency (Picture: Getty Images)

Dr Sagar Patel, a dermatology specialist at MyHealthcare Clinic, said: ‘Unfortunately, the UK is way behind countries such as Australia and the United States when it comes to awareness of moles.

‘While regular mole-mapping is very common in other parts of the world, many Brits simply ignore changes in their skin.

‘Granted, we don’t have the same warm climate, but you don’t need high temperatures to be exposed to harmful UV rays that can increase the chances of a mole becoming cancerous.’

How to check your skin

So it’s clearly important to check our skin regularly, but how?

Dr Sagar has a good acronym for guiding your frequent checks of your skin.

‘This simple guide is used by skin specialists to help patients understand what they should be looking out for,’ he said.

  • ‘A – asymmetry, when half the mole doesn’t match the other
  • ‘B – border, when the outline of the mole is irregular, ragged or blurred
  • ‘C – colour, when it varies throughout and/or there appears to be no uniform colour
  • ‘D – diameter, if it’s greater than 6mm
  • ‘E – evolving, or changes in the mole.

‘If you check your moles for these five points it can help you stay on top of any issues.But there is no substitute for having an appointment with a specialist, who will examine your skin and discuss any area of concern.’

Dr Sagar also wants to bust a couple of common myths you might be taking as truth.

He said that a mole doesn’t have to be itchy or bleeding to warrant a check up, there are other more subtle changes or sometimes no symptoms at all.

That being said sometimes moles will just change a little over the years.

‘Moles can change over time,’ Dr Sagar said, ‘becoming raised and altering in colour, shape and size. Some even disappear altogether,’ said Dr Sagar.

‘This is where being aware of your skin is key, as changes that occur over months rather than years – moles becoming darker quickly – are definitely worth getting looked at as a matter of urgency.’

If your mole gets darker suddenly then get it checked (Picture: Getty Images)

Another myth is that skin cancer affects those with a fair complexion more than someone with darker skin – and this is simply not true.

He said: ‘Yes, those with a darker complexion are slightly more protected from the sun than those who are very fair.

‘But it doesn’t mean they can’t be exposed to enough UV rays to damage the skin cells and increase the likelihood of developing a melanoma.’

Lastly it’s also important to check all of our skin, not just our moles, for any changes. So, go forth and get checking.

What to do if you’re worried about a mole

Cancer research advises: ‘See your GP if you develop a new mole or abnormal area of skin. This includes on the soles of your feet and the skin under your nails. Or if you notice a change to an existing mole.’

They recommend making a note of when you first noticed the abnormal mole or area of skin, and if there’s been any changes to it, as well as telling your doctor about any family history of cancer.

The GP will examine you and either confirm it’s not an issue of concern or refer you to a dermatology clinic that specialises in picking up suspicious moles and diagnosing melanoma.

If they don’t refer you, ask them to explain why you don’t need to have specialist tests (and consider writing this down to reassure yourself with the information after the appointment), whether there’s anything you can do to help yoursel, and what changes you should look out for in future.

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