Moles: Ask the Expert – Dr Ben Esdaile
Dr Ben Esdaile, a Consultant Dermatologist at Highgate Private Hospital provides his expert insight into moles & useful tips on how to monitor them.
Q: I just noticed a new mole. What should I do?
A: It is extremely important to be aware of your moles. If you notice a new mole that looks different from your other moles or a significant change in an existing mole then it is important to get this checked by a doctor. If your GP shares your concerns then they will urgently refer you to see a dermatologist.
Q: What sort of changes in my moles should I look out for?
A: The common signs of melanoma include a new unusual mole or a change in an existing mole such as:
- increase in size
- change in shape
- change in colour
- bleeding or crusting
- itchy and sore
Melanomas most commonly appear on the legs of women and on the backs of men but they can appear anywhere on the body including under the nails.
Q: What is melanoma and what are the risk factors for melanoma?
A: Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that starts in cells in the skin called melanocytes. Melanocytes make a pigment called melanin that gives the skin its natural colour as well as protecting the skin from harmful rays from the sun. Melanoma appears to be caused by a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors including sun exposure, family history, how easy a patient’s skin burns and having many moles.
Q: What is dermoscopy and mole mapping?
A: A dermatoscope is a handheld device that allows you to see structures in the skin that are unable to be seen with the naked eye. Early melanoma has certain structures that can be seen using the dermatoscope that can help identify it at an early stage. Dermoscopy can also be used to detect other types of skin cancer. Mole mapping uses a combination of high-resolution digital photography and dermoscopy to take serial photographs of all your moles over time. With the aid of computers, the earliest changes in moles can be detected resulting in earlier recognition of skin cancers.
Q: How often should I book mole check or a mole map?
A: It is important to self-examine yourself for any new or changing moles. In an ideal world, it is sensible to have a skin check on an annual basis especially if you have risk factors for skin cancer. Fortunately, many skin cancers develop where they can be seen, which means there is a good chance of catching them early. Having your skin examined with a device called a dermatoscope and undertaking mole mapping increases the chances of picking up skin cancer at its earliest stage.
Q: How do I know if I have a cancerous mole?
A: As mentioned previously it is extremely important to be self-aware of your moles and in particular new or changing moles. Some skin cancers are difficult to detect and dermoscopy and mole mapping are now the gold standard techniques in the early detection of skin cancer.
Q: How would I prevent cancerous moles?
A: The most important way to prevent melanoma is sun protection. Do not allow yourself to burn, never use sunbeds and protect your skin with clothes and broad-spectrum sunscreen when exposed to sunlight. In an ideal world, you would also have an annual professional skin check with dermoscopy.