Most of us have moles on our skin which cause no problems whatsoever. However, extensive public health campaigns by the government and cancer charities mean we are all well aware of the need to check moles regularly.
Melanoma skin cancer develops from skin cells called melanocytes. It’s the 5th most common cancer in the UK and second most common cancer in adults under 50. Many moles can be an indicator of melanoma. The more moles you have on your body, the higher your potential risk of melanoma. Your risk of cancer is also increased if you have just one unusually shaped or very large mole (5mm+).
You should be suspicious of any moles which:
- get bigger
- change shape, particularly if they lose symmetry or develop an irregular edge
- change colour or develop in different shades of brown or black
- become itchy, painful or bleed.
It’s helpful to remember what to look for using the ABCDE method: asymmetry; border irregularity; colour change; diameter; elevation.
How to check your moles
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of checking your moles at least once a month. Moles on the face, neck, forearms and hands are easy to keep an eye on, but you’ll need to make a conscious effort to check moles on your back, chest, thighs and stomach.
Men should be particularly vigilant in checking moles which develop on the back while women need to check their legs as these are the most common sites for melanomas to develop.
If you have a suspicious mole you can get in touch with your GP, or have it removed at Manchester Plastic Surgery. We can offer fast access to specialist treatment, enabling you to find out quickly whether your mole is cancerous. We appreciate that speed is of the essence for peace of mind.
Having a mole biopsy
Our consultant plastic surgeons will remove the suspicious mole and some of the surrounding skin and send it away for laboratory tests. This procedure will be carried out under local anaesthetic which numbs the site of the mole so discomfort is minimised. The wound will be covered with a dressing and you will be able to go home after treatment to rest and recuperate. Stitches will dissolve on their own, so you won’t need to return to have them removed.
You will then be invited for a follow-up appointment to discuss the histological results and to allow us to check the scar area. No further treatment will be required if your mole is not cancerous, you’ll be given advice about scar management and long-term skin surveillance. Often, even if the mole is mildly cancerous, no further treatment is necessary. This is the advantage of being treated by a team with over 30 years of skin cancer management. If you do have Basal Cell Carcinoma or Squamous Cell Carcinoma, you may choose to come back to Manchester Plastic Surgery to have more tissue removed in a procedure known as a wide local excision. This is to remove any cancerous cells which may remain around the melanoma site and to reduce the chances of recurrence.
Preventing skin cancer
Skin cancer rates are more than 4x higher than they were in the 70s. According to Cancer Research UK, this may be because doctors are better at monitoring skin cancer, but it may also be connected to increased time in the sun.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from developing skin cancer is to refrain from using sunbeds and to stay out of the sun, particularly between 11am and 3pm when the sun is strongest.
It’s also a good idea to get into the habit of wearing sunscreen but to remember that, even when doing so you should avoid staying out in the sun for prolonged periods, avoid tanning and definitely don’t allow your skin to burn.