Skin cancer: signs to look out for including patches and moles - as May marks Skin Cancer Awareness Month 2022

You should see a GP if you notice any change to your moles

Skin Cancer Awareness Month takes place every May and aims to raise awareness of skin cancer and the signs to look out for.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can cause skin cancer, but what are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer, and what is the difference between non-melanoma and melanomas?

Here’s what you need to know.

You should see a GP if you notice any change to your moles You should see a GP if you notice any change to your moles
You should see a GP if you notice any change to your moles

What is skin cancer?

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the world, with around 147,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed in the UK each year, according to the NHS.

Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin.

The NHS website said: “The term non-melanoma distinguishes these more common types of skin cancer from the less common skin cancer known as melanoma, which can be more serious.”

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs in the body.

What are the symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer?

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually the appearance of a lump or discoloured patch on the skin that persists after a few weeks. It slowly progresses over months or sometimes years and is the cancer or tumour.

In most cases, cancerous lumps are red and firm and sometimes turn into ulcers, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly.

Non-melanoma skin cancer usually develops on areas of skin regularly exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, hands, shoulders, upper chest and back.

What causes non-melanoma skin cancer?

Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light is the main cause of non-melanoma skin cancer.

UV light comes from the sun, artificial tanning sunbeds and sun lamps.

Other risk factors that can increase your chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer include:

  • a previous non-melanoma skin cancer
  • a family history of skin cancer
  • pale skin that burns easily
  • a large number of moles or freckles
  • taking medicine that suppresses your immune system
  • a co-existing medical condition that suppresses your immune system

You should see a GP if you have any skin abnormality, such as a lump, ulcer, lesion or skin discolouration that has not healed after four weeks.

What are the symptoms of melanoma skin cancer?

The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole.

This can happen anywhere on the body, but the most commonly affected areas are the back in men and the legs in women.

Melanomas are uncommon in areas that are protected from sun exposure, such as the buttocks and the scalp, and in most cases they have an irregular shape and are more than one colour.

The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed.

You should look out for a mole that gradually changes shape, size or colour.

What causes melanoma?

Melanoma is caused by skin cells that begin to develop abnormally.

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is thought to cause most melanomas, but there is evidence which suggests some may result from sunbed exposure.

The type of sun exposure that causes melanoma is sudden intense exposure, for example, while on holiday, which leads to sunburn.

Certain things can also increase your chance of developing melanoma, such as having:

  • lots of moles or freckles
  • pale skin that burns easily
  • red or blonde hair
  • a close family member who’s had melanoma

You should see a GP if you notice any change to your moles. They will refer you to a specialist clinic or hospital if they think you have melanoma.

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