Mole checks: how to spot signs of skin cancer early


It’s important to regularly check your moles, as they can change into a type of skin cancer called melanoma.

By Jenny L. Cook

Moles are small collections of pigment producing cells that sit on the top layer of your skin and, unless they change size, shape or colour, they are usually nothing to worry about. It’s important to check your moles every few months to identify whether you are at risk from skin cancer.

But would you know what to look out for? Follow our simple guide to mole checking, with expert advice from Dr Firas Al-Niaimi, group medical director at Sk:n.

What is a mole?

Can’t tell your moles from your elbow? There is often a lot of confusion over what actually constitutes a mole, as they can look a bit like freckles.

‘A mole is a collection of pigment cells called melanocytes and can appear at the superficial layer of the skin called epidermis or deeper part called dermis,’ explains Dr Al-Niaimi.

‘A freckle is a sun-related light or dark brown mark that tends to lighten in the winter and darken in the summer. Moles do not have this seasonal colour variation. The two also appear differently under the microscope.’

Why should you check your moles?

The reason it’s important to regularly check your moles is that they can sometimes change in to a type of cancer called melanoma. Melanoma is now the third most common skin cancer in the UK. The good news is if it’s detected and treated early, the better your outlook.

It’s important to regularly check your moles as they can sometimes change in to a type of cancer called melanoma.

Regular mole checks will aid in the early recognition of an abnormal mole with greater chance of cure. ‘A thorough mole check should examine all the moles and detect any particular worrying ones,’ says Dr Al-Niaimi. ‘Patient education on what to look for is essential. A mole checking service can assess your risk of possibly developing skin cancer and how to protect your skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation.’

There is no ideal time of the year to check your moles, but the risk of change does increase slightly after the summer holidays, so keeping an eye on your moles during autumn or early winter should be considered.

⚠️ If your moles look in any way abnormal or for peace of mind, always ask your GP for advice.

What should you expect from a mole check?

Here’s what to expect during a mole screening appointment:

✔️ When you attend a mole screening, to start with they will do a very straightforward risk assessment. This will include a few questions about your levels of sun exposure, sun bed use, family histories of melanoma and other similar factors.

✔️ It’s then time for the check, whereby the doctor looks at your freckles and moles to see whether there are any abnormalities.

✔️ If you have any particular moles you are concerned about, this is your opportunity to point them out.

What should you look out for?

The doctor or health care professional will take a few things into consideration while checking your moles. ‘It is important to understand what to be looking for in terms of a change in a mole and to assess the individual’s risk,’ explains Dr Al-Niaimi.

If there is any change in asymmetry, border irregularities, colour, or size, it’s worth getting checked.

‘If there is any change in asymmetry, border irregularities, colour change, or increase in size, or if you have any concern regarding any change then it’s worth getting a check.’

You can carry a mole assessment out on yourself at home too, but if you do spot any abnormalities or if you’re just not sure you’re doing it correctly, always ask your GP for advice.

The ABCD acronym for mole checking

As part of checking your moles, it’s important to look out for the following:

A • Asymmetry

Does one half of the mole look different to the other? If so, it needs checking.

B • Border irregularities

Does the mole change towards the outside?

C • Colour changes

Has it got dark, or shown any speckles of black, blue or grey?

D • Diameter

Has your mole got bigger or wider?

What happens if you find an abnormal mole?

If you or your doctor does find an abnormal mole, it is generally advised that the mole is removed. Your doctor will then send it off to a lab for further inspections and testing.

‘Sometimes, depending on the type of change, we might be unsure as to whether a mole is a problem or not,’ says Dr Al-Niaimi. ‘In these cases, we will monitor it over time. Any problem mole will continue to change, so keeping an eye on it will let us know for sure whether or not it needs to be removed.’

The mole removal process is nothing to worry about. It is carried our easily and painlesslyunder a local anaesthetic. A single mole removal may take as little as 20 minutes to complete.

Net Doctor


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