Spot-light On Moles

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Cindy Crawford

Moles (or Nevi if we’re being all Dr House about it) are funny things aren’t they? Most of us have them (the average number on a thirty-something woman is 25), some are famous in their own right (we’re talking Cindy Crawford and Marilyn Monroes’ ‘beauty spots’) and the majority will never trouble us during our lifetimes (they usually last up to fifty years before beginning to fade or disappearing altogether). But a new study published in the British Journal of Dermatology has found that people with more than eleven moles on an arm may be at greater risk of developing skin cancer. As less than half of melanoma’s develop from existing moles it’s important to keep a check on any changes in the number or appearance of your moles, so we’ve teamed up with Dr Alexis Granite, Consultant Dermatologist  at to find out what to look for and how to do some mole mapping of your own, especially as summer draws to an end.

How worried should we be about skin cancer?
“Well, the incidence of melanoma in the UK has increased fivefold since the 1970s, with over 13,000 new cases of melanoma reported each year. More than one third of cases of melanoma occur in people under the age of 55 and as melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK with over 2000 patients dying from the disease annually, it’s definitely something that should be on everyone’s radar.”

How many incidences of skin cancer are down to moles being the culprits?
“Patients who have 50 or more moles (naevi) are at an increased risk of developing melanoma, as are patients with atypical moles (dysplastic naevi).  It’s estimated that 20-40% of melanomas arise from pre-existing moles.  A recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology evaluated data from over 3000 female twins in the UK and found those with an increased number of moles on the arm (more than 11) were nine times more likely to have over 100 total naevi.  This quick assessment will help GPs to identify those patients at higher risk of melanoma and who might benefit from more in depth screening by a dermatologist.”

So what are the signs we should be looking out for?
“In examining your skin and moles keep an eye out for the "ABCDE" warning signs of melanoma. Melanomas may be Asymmetrical, have uneven or notched Borders, a variety of Colour shades, and a larger Diameter than typical moles (larger than 6 mm). Benign moles tend to stay essentially the same over time while melanomas Evolve, changing in size, shape, colour, or elevation. Be on the look out as well for moles that persistently itch or bleed.”
How can you mole map at home in between visits to a specialised clinic?
“You can mole map at home by checking your skin regularly in a well-lit space.  Examine your body front and back and sides with the help of a mirror and don't forget to check your scalp, palms and soles, and in between fingers and toes. Make notes or take photos of any moles you are concerned about to track possible change. The most common areas for melanoma are the legs for women and the chest and back for men. Enlist the help of a partner, friend or spouse to help monitor tough to reach areas if needed.”

Any tips for making sure your moles are healthy?
“I recommend consistent use of a high factor broad spectrum sunscreen when in the sun for keeping moles healthy and regularly check the skin using the ABCDE warning signs.”


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