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