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Skin cancer: how to check your moles

Every day in the UK, two people in the 15 to 35 age group are diagnosed with malignant melanoma. The British Skin Foundation's Hermione Lawson explains that we all need to be vigilant: a mole that grows, changes shape or looks unusual may be a sign of skin cancer. 

Q: How often should I check my skin for any changes to moles?

A: The best way to detect skin cancer is to check your skin regularly, about once a month. You should examine the skin all over your body, from top to toe. Ask a friend or member of your family to look at areas you can't see such as your scalp, ears and back.

Q: What is the most important thing to look out for?

A: Look out for moles or patches of skin that are growing, changing shape, developing new colours, inflamed, bleeding, crusting, red around the edges, particularly itchy, or behaving unusually.

Q: What should I do if I notice something unusual?

A: If in doubt, get it checked by your GP straight away. If he or she is concerned, they will refer you to see a consultant dermatologist - an expert in diagnosing skin cancer.

Q: How likely is it to be malignant melanoma?

A: Malignant melanoma is the least common but more serious form of skin cancer, which can be fatal if not caught and removed early. It is disproportionately high amongst young people, and people most at risk include those with pale skin who burn easily, those who have suffered past episodes of sunburn, people with many ordinary or unusual moles and those with a family history of melanoma.

Q: Should I be worried about bothering my doctor?

A: It’s actually a pleasurable experience to be able to tell a patient they have nothing to worry about, so people should always get a professional opinion at the first sight of any change.

Q: Is it worth paying to have my moles mapped or screened privately?

A: Not all screening services operate to the same standard. There is a real danger that not only will these unevaluated commercial “mole screening” devices over-diagnose, but that they may also under-diagnose and falsely reassure the customer, who then does not seek a referral for a changing mole.

Therefore self-monitoring and early diagnosis by an experienced doctor would remain our advice to anyone worried about the development of skin cancer.

Further information

The British Skin Foundation has a useful "skinformation section" with plenty of facts about skin cancer and sun safety, as well as an A-Z of skin diseases.

To find out about other important health checks and screening programmes, browse our healthier you section. In addition, members of Benenden are able to use the 24/7 GP advice line, allowing them to speak to a doctor about any health concerns they may have.