Molewatching – recognising melanoma
How common is skin cancer?
- About 1 in 6000 people get a melanoma in Norfolk each year.
- About 1 in 1500 people get a squamous cell carcinoma in Norfolk each year
- About 1 in 300 people in Norfolk each year get a basal cell carcinoma (but this is not usually life threatening – sometimes these are called rodent ulcers).
- About 40% of men aged over 75 have pre-cancerous changes in the areas of skin that are exposed to the sun. These areas have a small risk of turning into squamous cell carcinoma.
What ages do skin cancers affect?
- All types of skin cancer are commoner in older people.
- Squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma are rare below the age of 40.
- Melanoma affects adults of all ages and is a common cancer in people in their 20s to 40s.
- All types of skin cancer are very rare in children.
Who is at greater risk of skin cancer?
- Skin cancer is commoner in people who have had more time in the sun or under sunbeds.
- It is commoner in people who have close relatives with skin cancer.
- It is commoner in people who have had a skin cancer themselves.
- It is commoner in people who have a lot of moles and have fair or freckled skin which burns easily.
- Melanoma is commoner in very big moles which have been present since birth.
- Some medicines which affect the immune system can increase skin cancer risk.
- There are some very rare inherited diseases which increase skin cancer risk.
What changes in a mole should make you worry about melanoma?
- It is getting bigger (wider);
- It is becoming irregular in its shape;
- It is becoming irregular in its colour.
These changes usually progress as the months go by.
Other less common signs:
These can be bleeding, itching, a big mole, a mole which sticks out more or gets a raw surface.
Do melanomas always start in a mole?
Some melanomas arise in skin which looked normal before, some arise out of moles.
How can I use photos to keep a check on my moles?
Some people take photographs of their moles as a baseline record. They then use these photos to check their moles once every few months.
Tips on Taking the photographs:
- It is best to take the photos on a bright but cloudy day using daylight through a window.
- Take photos of the upper and lower back and chest/tummy.
- Then photo the front and back of the upper and lower arms and legs.
- Do the front and sides of the head and palms and soles.
- Put a coin or tape measure on each photo and any close up to give an idea of size.
- If you are using a digital camera, print out on A4 photopaper to give a good clear picture.
What changes should I look out for?
- Is the mole changing (bigger/changing colour or changing shape)?
- Is the mole irregular?
- Is the mole different from other moles?
- Has it been bleeding or itching?
- If in doubt then show the mole to your GP who can refer you to hospital if they have any doubts or concerns
- Catching melanomas early is now a priority for the health service.
This is an advice page written by Nick Levell January 2008 updated September 2013