Now that the weather has turned colder and our skin will be wrapped up in lots of layers until next spring, it is a good idea to take the time to have a look at your skin for any mole changes or other skin lumps and bumps. But how and when is it advisable to have your moles checked by a specialist?
Dr Claire Fletcher, Consultant Dermatologist at NVH provides advice on how and when to have your moles checked.
A mole is a collection of pigment cells in the skin.
The number of moles that an individual has varies considerably and is affected by skin type, genetics and sun exposure.
Most moles are brown in colour, but can vary from pink to black. They are often flat, but can be raised and fleshy.
Melanoma: the deadliest form of cancer
Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer, and about 16.000 people are diagnosed with this type of carcinoma every year in the UK.
Melanoma originates in the melanocytes, the cells that produce the melanin. When the cell’s DNA is damaged, the cell can grow out of control and become cancerous.
The DNA alteration can depend on genetic factors but also ultraviolet light exposure, such as sun and sunbeds.
When do you need to have your moles checked?
It is important to regularly check your moles for any changes, as these could indicate the development of a melanoma.
Changes to look out for include:
- an increase in size
- a change in shape or colour
- an itchy or bleeding mole
Some moles change temporarily because they are caught on clothing or are inadvertently scratched.
Patches of eczema sometimes develop around moles causing them to become itchy. A white ring may develop around a mole, known as a ‘halo’ which is usually harmless.
When examining your moles, it is useful to remember the following anagram: ABCDE.
If you notice any of the following, consult your doctor or Dermatologist:
- A – Asymmetry: if one half of a mole does not look the same as the other.
- B – Irregular Border: the border around where the mole and rest of skin meet is not defined.
- C – Varied Colour: a mole has more than one shade of colour within it.
- D – Diameter: the mole is larger than that of a pencil rubber.
- E – Evolving: the mole’s size, shape or colour has changed over time or if it becomes raised.
Who do you need to see to have your moles checked
If you notice any of the changes above, you need to see a medical professional.
Dermatologists are expert mole checkers, but you may need to be assessed by your GP first and referred on as needed.
Dermoscopy is the examination of the skin with a dermatoscope
During the check-up, moles and sometimes other lesions are examined with a dermatoscope, a handheld tool that can magnify the moles up to ten times.
Polarized light or the application of a gel to the skin enables deeper skin structures to be seen.
Dermatologists are very experienced in the use of dermatoscopes.
If a dermatologist suspects that the mole could potentially be harmful, then they will recommend removing it.
The area around the mole is numbed with a local anaesthetic injection, similar to having an injection at the dentist, but not usually as painful, and the mole is cut out with some of the normal skin around it. The wound is closed with stitches which usually require removal 1-2 weeks later.
The mole is tested by a Histopathologist, an expert doctor in the study of microscopic cells, who will assess whether it is harmless – benign – or cancerous –malignant. The results should be available in about 2 weeks.
Early stage (thin) melanomas have a lower risk of spreading to other body parts.
New treatments acting on the immune system have revolutionised the treatment of more advanced melanomas.
If you have any concerns about a mole or changing skin lesion, it is always a good idea to get it checked out.