How to spot the warning signs of deadly skin cancer in your moles

Summer 2018 was Britain’s joint hottest on record, and temperatures are forecast to remain unusually high for the rest of the year. It might be good news for your heating bills, but all those weekends and lunch times of sunbathing could have put you at increased risk of skin cancer.

New research from Debenhams has found more than 37 million Brits didn’t wear ANY form of sun protection during the recent hot weather at home. While both genders are culpable of going suncream-free, men seem to be the guiltier party with 36% admitting they never wear protection (as opposed to 45% of women).

With skin cancer rates more than doubling since the early 90s, it’s more important than ever for us to understand what’s going on under our skin.

Early detection is key, so if you’re not sure what to look out for then here’s an expert Q&A to help you spot the warning signs.

What does a cancerous mole look like?

“There are three common types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is non-malignant, doesn’t normally spread, and tends to grow slowly into non-healing lesions,” explains Donna Smart, Lead Dermatology Nurse, Screen Cancer UK . ‘They can be flat or scaly and pigmented."

“Squamous cell carcinoma is also non-malignant. They tend to be nodular, non-healing lesions that can ulcerate. They can grow very quickly, become aggressive and on rare occasions spread around the body."

"Malignant melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanomas can have irregular borders, be asymmetrical, bleed, itch and have irregular pigmentations. They can be flat or raised. They can spread and eventually kill you.

What makes a mole turn cancerous?

“One of the most common causes of melanoma is exposure to too much UV light from the sun or artificial sources of ultraviolet light, such as tanning beds,” Donna says. “Other risk factors can include skin type, sunburn, the number of moles on the body, family history and medication such as immunosuppressants.”

Does melanoma always start with a mole?

“You would normally expect a melanoma to start from a pigmented lesion. However, amelanotic melanoma is a type of skin cancer which develops as a mole or similar growth that does not contain melanin, usually resulting in a very pale pink or reddish lesion. Due to its lack of pigment, this type of melanoma is more difficult to detect,” says Donna.

Can an itchy mole be a sign of skin cancer?

“Yes, an itchy mole could possibly be a sign of skin cancer,” says Donna. “But also look out for other warning signs such as lesions with asymmetry and an irregular border.”

Can scratching or picking at a mole make it turn cancerous?

“You would not normally expect a mole to turn cancerous through picking or scratching,” Donna explains. “But, if the mole is itchy and crusty then this could be a sign that there is already a problem.”

Are cancerous moles always uneven in shape?

No, not always. There are several signs and symptoms to be aware of and experts advise you follow the ABCDE rule on mole checking:

A = Asymmetry

B = Borders

C = Colour

D = Diameter

E = Evolving (changing)

What are the most common places to have a cancerous mole?

“For men it’s the back, arms, head, neck and chest. For women it’s the upper chest area, arms, shoulders, legs and back. This is because these areas tend to get more exposure to UV light,” says Donna.

Can a mole be cancerous even if it’s never been exposed to the sun?

‘Anyone can be at risk of developing a cancerous mole, so if it hasn’t been over-exposed to UV rays, it could still be be down to your skin type, personal or family history, or a weakened immune system,” Donna says.

How long does it take for a cancerous mole to spread?

“This is very individual,” says Donna, “And would very much depend on the depth, the stage of the cancer and if cells have spread to the lymph nodes."

How common is skin cancer?

‘If you take all the different types of skin cancer together, it’s the most common cancer in the UK. Around 1 in 54 people will be diagnosed with malignant melanoma at some point during their lifetime, and is now one of the most common cancers in young adults aged 15-34 in the UK,” says Donna.

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How can I be tested for skin cancer?

“If you are worried about any of your moles you should always get them checked out," says Natalie Masters, pharmacist at Boots UK. "Book an appointment with your GB, who if needed, will refer you to a specialist. Or look into alternative private mole scanning services. Selected Boots UK stores offer a Mole Scanning Service , run by Screen Cancer UK , which can provide an assessment of moles and pigmented lesions you’re worried about." It costs £35 for one mole and £15 per additional mole, up to a maximum of four moles in total.

We try: the Boots Mole Scanning Service

Notebook beauty director Lynne Hyland says: "There’s a history of malignant melanoma in my family, so I try to keep an eye out for anything unusual. Recently, I spotted a mole on my jaw which seemed bigger and more raised than I remembered, so I thought it was worth an expert taking a closer look.

The Boots scan was quick and simple. A member of the pharmacy team took images of my mole with a Siascope, then sent them off to to be assessed. You then access the results on a secure website once they’re ready.

This can take up to seven days, but I got a text within 24 hours saying my results were in. Thankfully, I was reassured my mole looks normal (with the caveat to keep always keep an eye out for changes in future).

It’s worth noting the Boots team can’t advise you on whether a mole looks dodgy or not, so it’s up to you to go to them with a specific concern. It’s also not comparable to a full body screen by a dermatologist, who’ll be able to scrutinise you from top to toe for anything that needs further investigation. However if there’s a particular mole that’s worrying you I’d say it’s a quick and relatively affordable way to put your mind at rest."

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