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Moles, Skin Cancer & Sun Damage


moles-skin-cancer-and-sun-damageThe earlier a skin cancer is detected, the better the outcome. We recommend once yearly routine mole checks / skin cancer screenings – completely non-invasive examinations that will ensure peace of mind. If you have a particularly high number of moles, have a high sun-exposure history (for example lived abroad, worked outdoors or have outside hobbies), are fair skinned, have other risk factors for skin cancer or mildly suspicious moles, we may recommend more frequent check-ups.

During your routine check-up, our Dermatologist will inspect your entire body, top to toe (even under the feet and on top of the scalp) to make sure there are no worrying lesions. If there is anything remotely suspicious, our Dermatologist will examine the lesion with a dermatoscope, a special magnifying lamp with a polarizing light, at no extra cost. Often a diagnosis can be made with this device in a completely non-invasive way.

Moles should not be lasered under any circumstances!

A very common problem in the UK is a form of chronic sun damage, known as ‘actinic keratoses’ (AKs), which often occurs on the face, scalp, hands and forearms. These are in fact pre-cancerous lesions and especially common in fair skin, older people, those who have had quite a bit of sun exposure in the past (through outside hobbies or work, or having lived in a hot country for example).

It might surprise you to hear that your skin ‘remembers’ every hour of sun right back to your childhood. Once it has ‘had enough’, it will start to develop pre-cancereous lesions and potentially other problems.

AKs can look slightly red and feel like a patch of rough skin. You might alternatively notice a lesion that keeps on scabbing over. Because AKs are pre-cancereous, it is important to treat them promptly, which can be done by in-clinic ‘freezing’ (cryotherapy), ‘surgical scraping’ (curettage) or potent prescription creams.

By far the most common type of skin cancer is the so-called ‘rodent ulcer’ (basal cell carcinoma, BCC). The main cause for this type of skin cancer is past sun exposure and fair skin types are naturally more at risk. The good news about a BCC is that this type of skin cancer does not spread into inner organs and tends not to impact life expectancy. However, if not removed, the BCC will keep growing locally, so an early diagnosis when removal is still straightforward and easy, is extremely important. A basal cell carcinoma can appear in different shapes or forms, such as skin-coloured or pigmented lumps & bumps, ulcerated or bleeding lesions, and scar-like patches.

Other types of skin cancers include squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). But by far the most serious type of skin cancer is a melanoma. This is a malignant skin tumour, which arises from normal skin or in a pre-existing mole. Worryingly, the rate of melanomas in the UK is above the EU average and skin cancer rates in affluent areas are even higher compared to more deprived ones. Overall, cases are rising steeply and, according to the British Association of Dermatologists, the incidence of melanoma is increasing faster than any other common cancer. The good news is that if a melanoma is caught early, the prognosis in most cases will be absolutely fine.

If you notice any changes in a mole (e.g. it becomes larger, changes shape or colour, bleeds or itches) or the development of a new pigmented lesion anywhere on your body, come and see one of our Dermatologists as soon as possible. The lesion will be checked by dermatoscope. You’ll be relieved to hear that after essential clinical and dermoscopic examination, we can reassure the majority of patients. But if a mole remains suspicious, we are able to take it out (which is done painlessly under local anaesthesia) and send the tissue off for special analysis under the microscope.

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