In the clinic we regularly see moles that patients bring to our attention as well as plenty that we spot incidentally over the course of a physical examination. Often a patient may have been unaware that they had a mole or other lump or lesion on their skin. Sometimes patients are worried about them, other times they will have been pointed out to them by a relative.
Looking at moles and other skin lesions is challenging and great care has to be taken when appraising a mole. It is important for patients to note that it will not always be possible to provide an on the spot diagnosis for every mole that we see.
We occasionally need to refer patients to a dermatologist for further appraisal if we are worried that there is even a small risk that a mole could be a cancer. However, it is important to note that a referral to a consultant dermatologist does not always mean the worst!
Moles can evolve and change and if you have been reassured that a mole is probably benign but you then feel that it has changed over time then it is very important to bring it to our attention again.
- Those with a history of sunburn or excessive sun exposure
- A family history of skin cancer
- Using sunbeds (if used under the age of 35 this increases your risk by 60%)
- Having a rare birthmark-cancers may arise from these
- If you live in a cold country (like Ireland!) and holiday in a hot country regularly
- If you never use sun block or take other precautions (hats, etc)
What are the main types of skin cancers?
There are three main types that we see:
SCC & BCC
These are worth considering together as they share some features. Even though they are cancerous in a lot of cases they are completely curable. 70% occur in those over the age of 60, and 90% are caused by excessive sun damage to skin. Those that cause problems tend to be those that patients ignore or are unaware of.
A BCC can develop anywhere, but mainly are seen on the head, face and neck.They often start as a red/pink pearly lump and are domed.
If left untreated they can erode like an ulcer but happily they do not spread to other parts of the body. They are easily treated if caught early.
An SCC usually appears around the face, ears or lips but can develop anywhere. It might start out scaly, warty or crusted and like a BCC it can erode and will do if left untreated.
Similar to a BCC, they are usually treated relatively easily if caught early and they do not spread to other parts of your body like a melanoma.
This is a potentially serious cancer if not caught early. They arise from the pigmentation Melanin in your skin and unfortunately in some cases can spread around your body to your liver, bone or brain to name just a few locations.
The Marie-Keating Foundation has a brilliant piece on it’s website all about melanoma. They usually look like a dark mole but their presentation can be variable and the following infographic is very useful:
If we see a mole and we are worried that it might be a melanoma we will always refer you to a dermatologist urgently for an appraisal.
How can I reduce my risk of developing skin cancer?
- Never use sunbeds!
- Always use sunblock, reapply if you have been swimming or are sweaty and use a high factor
- Stay out of the sun if the UV index is high (usually middle of the day)
- Check yourself regularly and if you notice something that concerns you get it checked by a health professional
- Always ensure that the person you are seeing is what they say they are and are qualified to carry out any treatments promised, if you are seeing someone in a private clinic that you have not been referred to. We will always refer our patients to properly registered dermatologists only.
If you are worried about any suspicious moles then we can appraise them for you in our clinic. If we are worried that you may have a sinister looking skin lesion then we will refer you for expert opinion immediately. Just call us on 01-8461335 or 01-8038881 to make an appointment or you can e-mail us on firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This post was written by Dr. Niall