Understanding moles and melanoma

13 May 2016 Chris James   Health and wellbeing

Summer is almost here and our excitement levels are rising just as steadily as the temperature. With beach trips, barbecues and long summer nights to look forward to, all of our worries seem to be cast away. However, there's one concerning topic that shouldn't be left in the shadows this summer, it's time to talk about melanoma.

When you're enjoying a sunny day on the beach, it's easy to bury your head in the sand about the risks of skin cancer and melanoma. However, it's important that you recognise the signs of melanoma and how to protect yourself in the sun so that you can enjoy the long summer days with peace of mind.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body. It's the fifth most common cancer in the UK, with more than a quarter of cases being found in those under 50 years' of age. The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. These moles can be anywhere on the body, but the most commonly affected areas are the back, legs, arms and face.

Checking your moles

8 times out of 10, melanoma occurs outside of pre-existing moles but it's still important to keep an eye on your existing moles. If an existing mole grows, changes colour, itches or bleeds then it's worth getting it checked by a GP or dermatologist. You can use the ABCDE method as a simple and effective way of checking your moles, here's what to look out for:

  • Asymmetry – a completely irregular mole with no symmetry
  • Border – a wavy, jagged border that is clearly defined
  • Colour – an uneven tone that noticeably fades from black to brown
  • Diameter – larger than 6mm
  • Evolution – increased size or width

Can anyone develop melanoma?

Melanoma can affect anyone, but people with lots of moles or freckles are unfortunately more prone to develop it. Other higher risk groups include people with pale skin, redheads or anyone with a family history of melanoma.

How is melanoma treated?

The good news is that 90% of melanoma is treatable. If detected early enough, it's often just a case of removing the mole and checking that it hasn't spread to other parts of the body. After you've had melanoma, you are at risk of it coming back so it's imperative that you regularly check your moles and skin for any changes.

Can I reduce my chances of developing melanoma?

Melanoma is not always preventable but you can certainly reduce your chances of developing it. UV exposure is the most preventable cause of skin cancer. You should always avoid tanning salons with the use of sunbeds and sun lamps as the rays are too strong. It's also best to be sensible when it comes to sun care. Try to avoid spending too much time in the sun between the hours of 11-3 when the rays are at their strongest. Of course, you can't be expected to avoid the sunshine at all times, so invest in a high factor SPF. La Roche Posay and Vichy both offer great quality SPF creams for sensitive skin.

If you're worried about a mole on your body or want further information about spotting the signs of melanoma and how to prevent it, get in touch today.

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