1. Know your moles

Moles are clusters of pigment-containing cells (melanocytes) and are usually harmless. Melanomas - the least common, but most dangerous type of skin cancer - can arise in pre-existing moles. Things to look out for include rapid growth, a change in colour, shape or border, and a previously flat mole becoming raised. Bleeding, itching, scaling or ulceration, also warrant urgent medical attention. It is useful to know what is normal, too; new, harmless moles often appear up to the age of 25, they tend to fade with age but often get darker in pregnancy. Dermatologist Howard Stevens says melanomas can look like innocent moles (“a wolf in sheep’s clothing”), so if you notice a single large mole (greater than 6mm in diameter) that is growing or changing, ask to see a dermatologist.

2. Spotting the changes

If you have lots of moles, it can be hard to keep an eye on them. Programmes that monitor your moles (mole mapping) use computer-assisted technology to photograph, analyse and store images of your moles over regular intervals. But you can do it yourself by looking out for the ABCDE of moles; asymmetry, border irregularity, colour change, diameter increase and enlargement or elevation.

3. Watch your ears and eyes

Take special care of areas of skin that are often exposed to sun, burn easily and don’t heal well - such as the tips of your ears and areas around the eyes. Basal cell cancers - the commonest and least destructive type of skin cancer - often arise near the eyes and sides of the nose. Squamous cell cancers - less common, but occasionally aggressive cancers - can arise on the tops of your ears and lips, often starting as a roughened patch that won’t heal. Melanomas can arise anywhere on the body, either in an existing mole or as a new raised nodule or spot that looks like a mole.

4. Know your risk

Anyone can get skin cancers, but, as with most cancers, they are much more common as you get older. People most at risk of a melanoma have fair skin and hair, blue eyes, more than 20 moles, have been exposed to severe sunburn (especially in childhood) and have a close family member who has had a melanoma. Once you have had a melanoma, you are at greatly increased risk of another.

5. Be UV-aware

Exposure to high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or sunbeds increases the risk of all types of skin cancer. UVA rays cause skin damage such as wrinkles and play a part in some skin cancers. UVB causes sunburn and direct damage to skin cells and increases the risk of most skin cancers. UV levels can be high even on cloudy days. Rays are strongest from 10am to 4pm, at high altitude and the nearer you are to the equator. The Met Office publishes a UV index forecast for 417 world cities, giving a level of risk from 1-11 and advising about suitable precautions.

6. What are ‘suitable precautions’?

Look after babies and children; later development of skin cancer is linked to childhood sunburn. Babies should be kept out of direct sun and kids should never be allowed to burn. When the UV index is 1-2 (a typical UK winter day), no protection is needed; UV 3-7 means you should wear a shirt, sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses. For UV 8-11, the advice is to seek shade, stay indoors during midday hours and wear a shirt, hat, shades and sunscreen at all times when outside. A hot summer day in the UK may well reach 7 or even 8.

7. What sort of sunscreen is best?

You need a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30-plus if the UV index is above 3. For an adult, you need two tablespoons (about the amount you can fit in your palm) of sunscreen for your entire body, including ears, neck, face, hands and feet. Put it on while still indoors because it takes about 15 minutes to be absorbed into the skin and start doing its job. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or heavy sweating. Use a lip balm SPF 15-plus to protect lips.

Guardian.co.uk (c) Guardian News & Media Ltd, 2018

Alarm signs to look out for

Screening for skin cancer once a year can save your life. Sounds dramatic right?

Well sadly it’s truth. Dr Khashayar Ghiassi, Consultant dermatologist at Medcare Hospital, Dubai, offers a guideline about signs and symptoms that we should look out for:

‘The cause of melanomas are relatively unknown but studies suggest that brief, intense exposure to ultra violet radiation contributes to its development, with the long wave radiation being more dangerous than the short wave. There also seems to be a link to genetic factors, as well as environmental and infection influences,’ he says. 

Most melanomas start as a new skin growth on unmarked skin and may change as time goes on, but melanomas can also develop in an existing mole or mark on the skin, he adds.

Due to the fact that some sufferers may experience no symptoms at all, or if they do it may just be the form of soreness, itchiness or bleeding. Charting and examining your skin on a regular basis could be life-saving.

Used by dermatologists, the ABCDE guidelines of melanoma’s characteristics are helpful in classifying them.

A. Asymmetrical Shape 

Melanoma lesions can be identified by their irregular shape. If a mole is asymmetrical then it should be evaluated.

B. Border/Bleeding

Moles with irregular borders that are difficult to define should be checked, as should mole that bleed.

C. Colour

If the mole is not one uniform colour or brown or tan, then it could be a warning sign of melanoma.

D. Diameter

Most melanoma lesions are equal to or great than 6 millimeters in diameter, unless otherwise suspicious.

E. Evolution

All moles should be evaluated and checked regularly. It’s important you know what is right for YOU and whether your moles have gone through any recent changes in colour, shape, size or appearance.

If you see one or more of these signs, then you should consult a dermatologist immediately but those that fulfill any of the following criterias should also have regular checkups:

•             Those with 50 or more moles

•             Those with changing moles

•             Those with a past medical history of skin cancer (malignant Melanoma) in the family

•             Those with a large number of atypical moles

So, do not wait for that positive cancer test. Screening and self-exams for melanomas should be a priority for everyone. All ethnicity and skin types and tones are at risk so don’t think this doesn’t apply to you. There are warning signs to look out for and early detection is certainly of the utmost importance in a successful and fully recoverable treatment.