Mole Awareness – Would You Know What To Look For?

Shutterstock / Pixel-Shot © Dermatologist examining moles of patient on light background;

With news that Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York, has recently been diagnosed with skin cancer, it underlines the importance of checking moles, looking for skin changes and taking precautions when outdoors in the sun…

Dr Sagar Patel, a dermatology specialist at MyHealthcare Clinic, says many people still aren’t aware of what they should be looking out for when it comes to skin moles.

Is checking moles necessary?

The small spots, also known as melanocytic nevus, are common on all skin types and usually nothing to worry about. But if they change shape or colour, it could be a red flag for skin cancer and you need to see your GP right away.

Woman applying facial cream on her face;

Pic: Shutterstock

Dr Patel said, “Unfortunately, the UK is way behind countries such as Australia and the United States when it comes to awareness of moles. While regular mole-mapping is very common in other parts of the world, many Brits simply ignore changes in their skin.

“Granted, we don’t have the same warm climate, but you don’t need high temperatures to be exposed to harmful UV rays that can increase the chances of a mole becoming cancerous. So it’s important to have a good understanding of your moles and be aware of anything that needs expert attention.”

When to get a mole checked

Lady looking over shoulder at mole on her back

Pic: Shutterstock

Moles don’t have to be itchy or bleed to be worth getting checked.

“Melanoma – the most common type of skin cancer – doesn’t always cause any symptoms,” says Dr Patel.

“Yes, it’s worth getting checked out if you do experience itchiness, bleeding or discharge, but you should definitely be aware that so-called silent changes also occur.”

Is mole changing a sign of skin cancer?

Young woman with birthmark on her, skin isolated on white background. Dermatology, Checking benign moles. Skin tags removal concept;

Pic: Shutterstock

“Moles can change over time, becoming raised and altering in colour, shape and size. Some even disappear altogether.

“This is where being aware of your skin is key, as changes that occur over months rather than years – moles becoming darker quickly – are definitely worth getting looked at as a matter of urgency.

“As with any medical issue, if you are worried or unsure it is always best to seek professional advice from your GP.”

Skin cancer on black and dark skin

“This is a major myth. Yes, those with a darker complexion are slightly more protected from the sun than those who are very fair. But it doesn’t mean they can’t be exposed to enough UV rays to damage the skin cells and increase the likelihood of developing a melanoma.

“Whatever your skin type or colour, be aware of your moles and take the necessary precautions when you are outside all year round.”

Can skin cancer only develop in existing moles?

fashion photo of beautiful sexy woman with dark hair in elegant swimsuit relaxing on tropical island, puts sunscreen on her shoulders;

Pic: Shutterstock

“I’ve heard cases of people using higher factor sunscreen just on their moles. While this isn’t a bad idea in itself, what many people don’t appreciate is that skin cancers can develop from all areas of the skin.

“The best approach is to not only be aware of moles, but keep an eye on all areas of your body and use high factor sunblock whenever outside in strong sunshine.”

ABCDE skin cancer checklist

ABCDE skin cancer guide with illustrations

Illustration: Shutterstock

“This simple guide is used by skin specialists to help patients understand what they should be looking out for.”

  • A – asymmetry, when half the mole doesn’t match the other
  • B – border, when the outline of the mole is irregular, ragged or blurred
  • C – colour, when it varies throughout and/or there appears to be no uniform colour
  • D – diameter, if it’s greater than 6mm
  • E – evolving, or changes in the mole

“If you check your moles for these five points it can help you stay on top of any issues. But there is no substitute for having an appointment with a specialist, who will examine your skin and discuss any area of concern.”

MyHealthcare Clinic, which has sites across London and the South East, offers specific mole analysis or general mole checks.

This article was first published on August 17, 2022.

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Moira Chisholm

I'm the Health Editor on My Weekly and am always interested to hear what's new in this fascinating field. I also deal with the gardening, shopping pages, general features, our website content and the Ask Helen problem page. I have a special interest in Christmas content because I'm on the team for Your Best Ever Christmas Magazine, too!