Lots of us have them. But while some are harmless, others can be deadly...
You might have just one or two, or you might be covered in moles. They are often harmless growths that we forget about.
But would you be able to tell if one of your moles had changed? And what would it mean if it had?
Dr Anjali Mahto, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, says that knowing your moles is key.
She explains: ‘Most dermatologists recommend skin self-examination on a monthly basis. This is to detect unusual growths or changes early.
‘It should be carried out in a well-lit room with the aid of a full-length mirror. It is important to look closely at the entire body including the scalp, buttocks and genitalia, palms and soles including the spaces between the fingers and toes. It may be helpful to seek assistance from someone you trust to examine the hard-to-see areas.’
So if you do notice that a mole has changed, what does this mean? And what should we be looking out for?
Dr Mahto says: ‘The acronym ABCDE can be extremely helpful in evaluating moles. If a mole shows any of these features, it warrants review by a dermatologist to exclude melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.’
A is for Asymmetry: one half of the mole is different to the other.
B is for Border: irregular, scalloped or poorly defined edge.
C is for Colour: uneven colour or variable colours within a mole.
D is for Diameter: the mole is bigger than 6mm in size.
E is for Evolving: the mole is changing in its size, shape or colour.
But what if you’re just a ‘moley’ person?
Dr Mahto says that, in general, the more moles you have, the higher your risk of developing melanoma.
She says: ‘There are some people who have large numbers of odd-shaped or atypical moles. It’s called atypical mole syndrome — the risk is higher in these people than in the general population.’
She also points out that we should always be on the lookout for new moles or a mole that looks significantly different, or any skin lesion that bleeds or fails to heal.
If you do find a mole that has changed or has appeared suddenly, don’t panic.
Dr Mahto says: ‘Not every change in a mole is necessarily skin cancer. For example, moles can increase in size and become darker due to hormonal changes in pregnancy.’
She stresses that if you are worried, the best thing is to seek medical advice early.
She says: ‘Any concerns should prompt a visit to a dermatologist who will perform a full skin examination and may go on to either remove a mole or take a biopsy of any unusual growths or patches on the skin.’
Edited by Julie Cook
For information on moles, visit britishskinfoundation.org.uk
Mole skin safety — Dr Mahto’s tips
Cover up in the sun with protective clothing and a hat and stay out of sunlight in peak daylight hours
Suncream should be applied all over the body and not just the moles
Remember the acronym ABCDE for any changes in moles
Check your moles once a month or get someone to help
See a doctor if a mole changes colour, size or shape
‘Why did I ignore it for so long?’
I first noticed a mole appear on my upper chest when I was breastfeeding my second child. Four years later it had grown massively in size and had also changed shape and colour.
I’d never been a sun worshipper and had never used a sunbed. I always wore suncream so I felt sure I wasn’t at risk of cancer.
Still, I went to the GP who referred me to a dermatologist.
The consultant told me it was probably OK but that I should have it removed and tested. So two weeks later I had the mole taken off.
It was bad news.
My mole was malignant. I had melanoma — skin cancer.
I was devastated. I had two children aged four and seven.
I thought: Will I die?
Six weeks later I had a wide local excision. The doctors removed the mole and surrounding tissue to be examined for any spread. They also did a sentinel lymph node biopsy, where a sample of the nearest lymph nodes was tested for cancer.
Luckily, they found no evidence the cancer had spread.
Five years on from my diagnosis, I have been discharged as a melanoma patient.
But I’ve learnt my lesson. Now I slap on factor 50 all the time and am always looking out for moles.
I’m telling my story to warn others not just to think a mole is a ‘hormonal thing’ and never to ignore a mole that changes colour or shape.
Thanks to acting on the changes I saw, I’m still alive.
From Elizabeth Elgar, 44, of Watford, Herts