Medical Matters

Dr Jeremy Beckett shares the ABCs of melanomas

What is skin cancer?

skin cancer

There are several different types of skin cancer, but the one that is most feared is certainly melanoma. A melanoma can grow rapidly, and will eventually spread to other parts of the body. Once it has spread, it will be fatal in most cases.

Who gets melanoma?

Most skin cancers are seen in older people, or young people with very fair skin. They usually occur in the most sun-damaged areas, such as the face, ears, scalp, neck, back, forearms and hands. Melanoma is a little different, in that it can occur in young people, and in areas of skin that haven't had much sun exposure. There are even reported cases of melanoma occurring between the toes, or in the mouth. It is still more common in people with fair skin, but when checking for melanoma you have to look literally everywhere.

What does it look like?

Almost anything! Whilst most melanomas are very dark in colour, and may have irregular borders and multiple colours, they can sometimes be pale or skin-coloured. This makes them potentially very difficult to recognise.

The A B C D E of melanoma recognition:
Asymmetry (irregular shape)
Border irregularities (rather than a smooth, rounded border)
Colour variegation (different colours within the same region)
Diameter greater than 6 mm
Enlargement or progressive change in colour or shape

Should I be worried about my moles?

Most of us have many moles and freckles, and will develop new ones from time to time. We need to watch for changes in these moles.

Digital photography is also helpful: take a high-resolution photo, and then repeat it a couple of months later and compare the images on a large computer screen. Is there any difference? If there has been no change, it is unlikely to be a melanoma.

Guarding against melanoma

All you can do is continue to protect your skin from the sun, and to be watchful. If you see any spots that have changed, even if they're not dark in colour, you should seek advice from a doctor.

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