Sun safety is at the top of everyone’s agenda, with skin cancer rates rising rapidly across the Western world. Everyone is aware of the importance of staying in the shade as much as possible and using a good sunscreen to stop getting sunburned, but it is not always possible to avoid being over exposed to the sun or getting sunburned. However, it is important to be aware of the danger signs of skin cancer even if you take every precaution before heading out for a day in the sun.
Moles are very common, especially in fair skinned people. They are usually brown in color and circular or oval shaped with a rounded edge. They are not painful and do not itch. It is normal for more moles to develop in the teenage years, and for them to decrease in number in middle age. It’s important for everyone to be familiar with their own bodies, as it is only when moles begin to change that there is a cause for concern. Moles in themselves are no cause for concern and as long as they are staying the same there is no need to have them removed.
Moles can sometimes develop into a malignant, or cancerous, melanoma, which is a form of quick growing skin cancer. A malignant melanoma can grow anywhere on your body but they are most commonly found on areas which are most often exposed to the sun, such as legs, arms or the face. It may be either a mole or spot growing where there wasn’t one previously, or it may be an existing mole which starts to grow. A mole which is not nicely rounded or oval could indicate a malignancy, or a mole that itches or bleeds. Melanomas are generally larger than a mole with a diameter of over 3/8 inch. Melanomas are not often uniformly colored unlike regular moles. If you have any moles which appear to be changing, getting larger or are itchy then it is essential that you seek medical advice immediately.
The doctor will first order a biopsy of the cells to see whether or not there are cancer cells present. If the melanoma is in the early stages, it will be removed under local or general anesthetic, along with some of the surrounding skin. If the melanoma is at a more advanced stage of development, or if the cancer has spread to other areas or organs of the body, a more aggressive treatment plan involving surgery, radiotherapy or drug treatments may be considered. The doctors will undertake a wide range of tests and screening to determine which stage of development any melanoma is. If the melanomas are caught at an early stage, the patient is completely cured from the cancer. If the melanomas are allowed to develop unchecked and the cancer is not picked up, the prognosis is not nearly as good. This is why it is so important to refer to a medical professional as soon as you spot any changes in texture or appearance of moles, anywhere on the body.
It is more common for the problem to recur in patients who have had a more serious case of skin cancer previously. To minimize any chances of the skin cancer returning, it is very important to minimize sun exposure by keeping out of the sun when it’s at its strongest, covering up and wearing appropriate clothing, using a high protection factor sunscreen and avoiding using sunbeds.