This is important.
Just this week, Love Island star Molly-Mae Hague, 21, has shared that she's undergone surgery for a cancerous mole.
Since taking to social media to share her story, she's expressed that she's keen to raise awareness and educate the younger generation on the signs and symptoms of skin cancer.
There are two main types of skin cancer, according to Dr Wade, consultant dermatologist and medical director of London Real Skin in Holborn. That is, melanoma skin cancer and non-melanoma skin cancer.
Melanoma skin cancer is more serious and what Molly-Mae has experienced. "That is where you will see a change in the mole. It could be a mole that you have had for a while that begins to change and look abnormal, or a brand new pigmented lesion that looks different to all the others from day one," he explains.
Do note here: as medical director of skin clinics chain Cosmedics Dr Ross Perry points out, most moles are, fortunately, harmless.
Skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, according to Cancer Care Parcel's doctor Shara Cohen. She shares: "Over the last decade, the number of people diagnosed with melanoma in the UK has increased by almost half. The death rate equates to 2% of all male cancer deaths and 1% of all female cancer deaths."
So, how do you know if your moles are cancerous? Here, we enlisted the help of several doctors, dermatologists and skincare experts to help you understand the main warning signs of skin cancer to look out for, how to check your moles at home, and how (and when) to get your moles checked.
What are the main symptoms of skin cancer?
First things first, Babylon GP dr Claudia Pastides stresses that if you’re at all worried about your moles, go get them checked out. "In the UK, there is no national screening programme for skin cancer. We all need to be aware of the signs of skin cancer and, if we’re at all worried about our skin, to speak to a GP about it," she shares.
So, what are the main red flags to look out for, you know, that indicate there's cause for concern? According to Dr Wade, you're essentially always looking for a change. These changes can typically include an increase in size, having more than one colour in it or asymmetrical pigmentation so when one side doesn’t look like the other.
A good rule to remember, he shares, is ‘ if in doubt, check it out’. "You should always be suspicious of a new mole, growing moles, the darkest ones on your body and any irregular shapes or borders," he explains. Also do note—not all moles have symptoms such as bleeding, painful or itching. Some can just change in appearance.
How do I check for skin cancer at home?
"It's absolutely vital to be aware of the warning signs of a ‘suspicious’ mole," explains Dr Ross. "Everybody should regularly check the skin for new or changing moles, bearing in mind the following ‘ABCDE’ signs of melanoma skin cancer, which highlight the common warning signs:
- Asymmetry: These moles look a bit lop-sided. They are different shapes and/or sizes from left to right.
- Borders: Check the edges of moles. If they are uneven, scalloped or notched rather than smooth, then this might indicate an early melanoma.
- Colour: Moles should be a fairly uniform block of colour. Any variation within a single mole is another warning sign — those colors can include brown, tan, black, red or blue.
- Diameter: If the mole is larger than the size of a pencil eraser, then it is cause for concern. However, early melanomas might start out smaller than a quarter of an inch, so don’t discount any that are suspicious yet small.
- Evolving: Any moles which seem to be changing in size, shape, colour or height are deemed risky. Also watch out for itchiness, discharge, bleeding or crustiness.
Although according to consultant dermatologist at The Cadogan Clinic Dr Susan Mayou, it's important to remember that this is a rough outline. "Do remember that a melanoma does not always fit the ABCDE rule," she explains. "If you notice anything different, or if there is a new skin lesion, if it itches, bleeds or if you are worried about it, you should seek medical help."
Did you know? 52% of melanoma are identified by tiny changes. "I always say to patients to look for the member of the orchestra playing out of tune," she adds." The skin is your largest organ and so easy to examine and monitor and remove lesions if indicated." Hear, hear.
Don't know where to start? Try the following...
- Full-length mirror in a room
- Room with good lighting
- Hand mirror for hard to see places
- Remove all clothes so you are completely naked
- Start with your head (use a hair dryer to separate hair to view scalp properly) and look at each mole closely, using the hand mirror for any difficult places
- Start from left to right and scan the body, all the way down, looking closely at each mole, using the ABCDE rule
- Use the ruler to record size of moles that may be cause for concern
- Photograph moles that may require special attention, this will make it easier to refer back to and monitor
- Don’t forget to check the back of your legs and neck, fingers, fingernails, hands and the bottom of your feet and toes.
Who is most at risk of skin cancer?
According to Dr Susan, people at a higher risk of developing melanoma stereotypically have a history of childhood sunburn, prolonged exposure to UV rays, fair skin, outdoor-related work and hobbies, multiple atypical moles, a previous history of skin cancer or melanoma, a family history of skin cancer or melanoma or a history of immunosuppression.
The most common places for skin cancer are areas that are most exposed to the sun including the face (the most common), scalp, ears, neck, hands, chest and back and legs.
How do I reduce my risk of skin cancer?
With these simple prevention steps, that's how.
1. Apply suncream daily
At least SPF30+ is preferable
2. Replace regularly
It should be applied every 4 hours.
3. Protective yourself from the sun
A hat or sunglasses are good protectors
4. Stay out of the sun when the sun is strong
This is usually between 11am-4pm.
What happens if I find an abnormal-looking mole?
It's simple, according to doctor Shara. Simply make an appointment with your doctor if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you. Do remember—not everything you read on the Internet is accurate, and nothing is a replacement for the opinion of a qualified doctor. "Not all skin changes are caused by skin cancer. Your doctor will investigate your skin changes to determine a cause.”
Keen to skip the GP and book an appointment with a specialist? There are a whole host to choose from, but the Cadogan Clinic’s mole check is approved by the British Skin Foundation, so a safe bet.
Remember: Melanoma can be treated. The chances of cure are higher if the melanoma is diagnosed and treated early, so it is really important not to delay seeing your GP about it.
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Ally Head is Marie Claire UK's Health, Sustainability, and Relationships Editor, eight-time marathoner, and Boston Qualifying runner. Day-to-day, she works across site strategy, features, and e-commerce, reporting on the latest health updates, writing the must-read health and wellness content, and rounding up the genuinely sustainable and squat-proof gym leggings worth *adding to basket*. She regularly hosts panels and presents for things like the MC Sustainability Awards, has an Optimum Nutrition qualification, and saw nine million total impressions on the January 2023 Wellness Issue she oversaw, with health page views up 98% year on year, too. Follow Ally on Instagram for more or get in touch.