With summer drawing to a close (sorry, I did say that), you have probably spent some time out and about soaking up the rays. For many, with sun exposure comes the onset of new moles or changes in the ones you’ve had for years, but how do you know if your moles are safe? There are certain signs to look out for, and you can definitely monitor them at home. We called on our resident doctor, Dr. Jane Leonard, to share her DIY guide to checking your moles.
What are moles?
A mole is a small, dark, spot on the skin. It appears dark in colour because it is made up of a cluster of skin cells called melanocytes, which give the skin a brown colour.
Moles are often circular or oval in shape and they can be flat or raised.
Can moles just appear on your skin?
Moles can be present from birth. They can also develop throughout your life—this is more common in the first 30 years. Moles tend to fade in colour and may also disappear as you get older.
Moles often run in families, and you are more likely to have moles if you have fair skin.
Moles can become darker with sun exposure, and during hormonal changes such as pregnancy.
Moles are extremely common and generally harmless. However, if the cells of the mole begin to change in an abnormal way, they can develop into a form of skin cancer called malignant melanoma.
There are signs of a changing mole that we should all be aware of. If you notice any of the signs below you should see your doctor immediately.
The red flag symptoms and signs are:
- Change in shape
- Irregular shape
- Irregular colour
I find this ABCDE system developed by BAD, the British Association of Dermatologists, extremely useful:
Asymmetry: The two halves of the area may differ in shape.
Border: The edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches.
Colour: This may be uneven. Different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen
Diameter: Most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor
Expert: If in doubt, check it out! If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a consultant dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS.
If you have moles on your skin, I can’t stress enough the importance of self-examination and monitoring.
Use the ABCDE guide to look for changes. Ask a partner/friend/family member to check out any moles you can’t see, e.g., on your back. Take photos and compare regularly.
If you detect any of the red flag changes above, or if you have any concerns at all please go to see your doctor.
The best way to keep your moles safe is to stay safe in the sun. You can help protect yourself from sun damage if you:
- Stay in the shade when the sun is at its strongest (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.).
- Cover up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Use a high-factor sunscreen (minimum SPF15) and reapply it regularly.
- Always avoid sunbeds.
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