How to check moles for signs of skin cancer

A medical consultation at the Removal of nevus.
Changes to a mole can be a tell-tale sign of skin cancer. (Stock, Getty Images)

The UK's 2021 summer may be one of the wettest on record, but we should never be complacent when it comes to skin cancer.

After living with coronavirus restrictions for more than a year, the lifting of lockdown has enabled Britons to gather in parks, on beaches and in pub beer gardens.

While socialising in the fresh air brings some health benefits, too much sun can cause painful burns, heat stroke or even cancer.

Changes to moles are often a warning sign of malignant skin tumours, with Boots reporting a 47% increase in bookings for its Mole Scanning Service since May.

Read more: Sunshine linked to lower coronavirus deaths

While it may sound daunting, checking blemishes for signs of cancer is as easy as ABC(DE).

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More than 16,000 people develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, every year in the UK. Of these cases, over four in five (86%) are said to be preventable.

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In 2020, Love Island finalist Molly-Mae Hague urged her 5.9 million Instagram followers to get their moles checked after an unusual blemish on her leg turned out to be cancerous.

This may explain why the number of 20-somethings booking a mole scan with Boots has risen by 60% since 2020. More than a quarter of skin cancer cases occur in people under 50. This is in contrast to other forms of cancer, which become more common in old age.

"It is reassuring to see that while our patients are enjoying life out of lockdown and being outside, they are growing more aware of the need to check their moles," said Bina Mehta, a pharmacist at Boots.

"I encourage everyone, no matter your skin tone or sun care routine, to regularly check moles for any signs or change following the ABCDE rule."

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Asymmetry: Is the blemish asymmetrical or irregular in shape?

Border: Is the outline of the blemish uneven?

Colour: Are a variety of colours present? Like red, white or even shades of blue

Diameter: Is it larger than 6mm (0.2 inches) across?

Evolving: Has it changed in size, shape, colour or elevation? Is it bleeding, itching or crusty?

BANBURY, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06:  Molly-Mae Hague attends the launch of the PrettyLittleThing x Little Mix collection at Aynhoe Park House on November 6, 2019 in Banbury, England.  (Photo by David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images)
Molly-Mae Hague has had a cancerous mole removed. The influencer is pictured at the launch of the PrettyLittleThing x Little Mix collection in Banbury in 2019. (Getty Images)

No one is immune to skin cancer, however, people with light skin and hair – and freckles – are more at risk.

"If you are concerned about your mole or if you spot anything irregular, you should visit your GP, or you may want to consider booking an appointment at your nearest Boots pharmacy that offers a Mole Scanning Service," said Mehta.

The service is available at more than 50 Boots pharmacies. Trained staff assess a concerning mole or blemish at a price of £35, falling to £15 for each additional scan.

To stay safe in the sun, avoid being outdoors during the hottest part of the day, usually 11am to 3pm.

Wear sunscreen of at least SPF 30 and reapply regularly, particularly after swimming or sweating. Lightweight clothes that cover the skin, along with a wide-brim hat, also ward off excessive sun exposure.

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