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Do you regularly check your skin for changes?

May is skin cancer awareness month. Skin cancer is one of the most common and fastest-growing cancers worldwide.

Regularly checking your skin for signs of change can help in the early detection of skin cancer. The earlier a skin cancer is detected and treated, the better the prognosis.


Self-examination body mapping

It is recommended that you check your skin for changes every month. Knowing your skin and what is normal for you, can help you easily spot any changes. Skin cancers are rarely painful and are generally seen rather than felt.

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Charity Skcin suggest that you have your doctor do a full body exam before you begin checking your own skin monthly. Your doctor will check whether existing moles, spots, freckles and other marks are okay and refer you for further tests or treatment for any that raise suspicion.

Checking your skin takes around 10 minutes.

Here are a few tips on self-examination body mapping courtesy of Skcin.

  • Check your skin after a bath or shower in good light.
  • Use a mirror or ask a friend to help check hard to see areas.
  • Check your whole body, including your scalp, ears, palms, soles, between your fingers and toes, finger and toenails, under your arms and breasts.
  • Record your findings on a body map. Skcin have a useful body map that you can download from their website. It explains how to perform self-examination body mapping, what to look out for and helps you keep a record of your skin checks.


What to look out for:

  • A translucent or coloured growth that gets bigger in size.
  • A mole that looks different from other moles on your body.
  • Any brown spot, mole, beauty or birthmark that
    • Changes in colour, size, thickness or texture.
    • Has an irregular outline.
    • Is larger than 6 mm.
    • Appears after the age of 21 years.
  • A new raised, red or dark coloured flaky patch.
  • A new skin-coloured firm lump.
  • An open sore that won’t heal.
  • A lesion that is painful, itches, bleeds, crusts or scabs.

It is recommended that you learn more about the various types of skin cancer before beginning with self-examinations so that you have an idea of what to look out for.



Types of skin cancer

There are two main types of skin cancer
 - Non-Melanoma skin cancers (NMSC) and
 - Melanoma Skin Cancer


Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer (NMSC)

There are two main types of Non-Melanoma skin cancers:

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Most common type of skin cancer.

Less common than basal cell carcinoma.

Mainly occurs on sun exposed areas like the face, ears and neck.

Usually found on sun exposed areas but can appear anywhere on the body.

Develops slowly over months and years.

Grows quickly.

Can appear in different sizes and shapes.

Varies in appearance but usually a scaly lump, nodule, ulcer, a sore that won’t heal, or an elevated wart with a central depression.

Often begins as a small hard white or skin-coloured lump that grows at a varying rate.

Rarely spread but may cause damage nearby tissue and organs if not treated.

May spread to other parts of the body if left untreated and can be fatal in extreme cases.

Mainly caused by over-exposure to UV from the sun and/or sunbeds.

Mainly caused by cumulative UV exposure.

Things to look out for:
Open sore that doesn’t heal.
Pink coloured growth with an elevated border.
Persistent red or irritated area of skin.
Shiny pearlescent or translucent nodule.
Pink, red, white, tan, brown or black nodule.
A scar-like waxy patch with an undefined border.

Things to look out for:
Open sore that won’t heal.
May crust and bleed.
Persistent scaly patch that is often red with uneven borders.
Elevated growth with central depression.

Wart-like growth that won’t heal or respond to treatment.



Melanoma Skin Cancer

Melanoma is the least common but most dangerous type of skin cancer. It can spread to form new cancers in other areas of the body.

There are 4 main types of melanoma:

Superficial spreading (SSMM)

Lentigo maligna (LM)

Nodular melanoma (NM)

Acral lentiginous (ALMM)

The most common type of melanoma.

Similar to Superficial Spreading Melanoma.

Most aggressive form of melanoma.

Rare type of melanoma.

Starts in the top layers of the skin before penetrating deeper.

Starts in the top layers of the skin before penetrating deeper.

Recognised as a bump of varying colour. They grow quickly and become rapidly invasive.

Starts in the top layers of the skin before penetrating deeper but advances quicker than LM and SSMM.

Mostly seen in younger people.


Mostly found in older people.

More common in males and older people but can develop at any age in anyone.

More common in Asians and African Americans.

Can occur in a previously benign mole.

Commonly occurs on chronically sun damaged skin.

Looks different from other melanomas.

It may look like a bruise or stain and grows in size over time.

Usually found anywhere on the body but most commonly on the legs in women, on the trunk in men and the upper back on both.

Usually found on the face, arms, ears and upper body.

Usually found on the arms, legs and trunk and on the scalp in men, but can occur in other areas of the body too.

Usually found as a black discolouration on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and under the nails.



The ABCDE of Melanoma is a screening test used to help detect abnormal moles.

Melanoma develop from melanocytes, which are the pigment producing skin cells. Although it can develop as a new mole most melanoma are within an already existing mole.

Sunbeds and over exposure to UV light from the sun are the biggest causes of melanoma. Other risk factors include hereditary influences, compromised immunity and the occurrence of lots of moles.

Melanoma can spread to other organs like the liver, lungs, brain and the blood and can be deadly. However, if detected early they can be successfully treated.

Moles are quite common and don’t usually pose any risks but occasionally they may be a cause of concern. Any changes in size, shape or colour or if a mole becomes tender, irritated, seeps, bleeds or swells should immediately be reported to a doctor.

Normal moles are even in colour being brown, tan, black and can either be flat or raised, round or oval and are less than 6 mm in diameter.

A is for asymmetry
One half doesn’t match the other half.

B is for border
The edges are uneven, jagged, notched or distorted.

C is for colour
Different colours with varying shades of brown or black and occasionally with areas of pink, red, white, or blue.

D is for diameter
The mole is bigger than 6MM across.

E is for evolving
A change in size, shape, colour or elevation or any new symptoms such as bleeding, itching, crusting or scabbing may be a warning sign of melanoma.

Although this is a good test, some melanoma don’t fit these rules. If you notice any changes, unusual marks or are unsure, always consult a doctor.

It is also important to look out for pre-cancerous lesions as these can act as a warning sign that you are prone to skin cancer. The earlier skin cancer is identified, the easier it is to treat.

Skcin has in-depth information on the various types of skin cancer.



Who is at risk?

We are all at risk of developing skin cancer but those at greater risk include:

  • People with fair skin that burns easily.
  • Avid sunbed users. This is because sun damage is cumulative.
  • People with a history of sunburn as a child or adolescent.
  • Outdoor workers, sportsmen and women.
  • Older people with accumulated sun damage over an extended period.
  • People with more than 100 moles.
  • People with a family history of skin cancer or melanoma.

Keeping yourself safe

Just a few minutes a day of unprotected sun exposure can put you at risk. Stay safe in the sun by following Skcin’s Five S’s of Sun Safety.

1. SLIP on a t-shirt

Clothing safeguards you from harmful UV rays and is one of the most efficient forms of protection against skin cancer.

2. SLOP on SPF30+ broad spectrum sunscreen

Wear a broad-spectrum SPF to protect your skin from the sun every day. Allow your skincare to fully absorb for 10 minutes before applying sunscreen as the last step of your morning skincare routine. You need to apply ½ teaspoon or 2 finger lengths of sunscreen to your face and at least 6 teaspoons (2 tablespoons) to your body to be adequately protected.

3. SLAP on a wide-brimmed hat

Wear a wide-brimmed hat (4-inch brim) to protect your face, neck, eyes and ears.

4. SLIDE on quality sunglasses

Wear good quality sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV radiation.

5. SHADE from the sun whenever possible

Seeking shade, especially at the hottest time of the day - between 11 am and 3pm, protects you from the sun's harmful UV rays and gives your reprieve from the heat.


Regularly checking your skin and adopting these sun safe tactics can help prevent most skin cancers. For more detailed information and handy guides, visit Skcin.


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