Malignant Melanoma and Moles

Some of us have more moles than others. The more moles you have on your body, the higher your risk of melanoma. Of course this doesn’t mean you will definitely get melanoma if you have lots of moles. But it does mean you should be very careful about exposing yourself to the sun. And you should keep an eye on all your moles. Pre-cancerous moles can usually be removed under local anaesthetic. An early melanoma can be cured in this way. But if you leave them, they can become very difficult to treat.

Melanoma is a type of cancer of the skin. There are definite signs that a mole is suspicious and should be seen by a doctor. If you have a mole that is

  • Getting bigger
  • Changing shape, particularly getting an irregular edge
  • Changing colour – getting darker, becoming patchy or multi-shaded
  • Itching or painful
  • Bleeding or becoming crusty
  • Looks inflamed

you should go to the doctor straight away. Melanomas are most common on the back in men and the legs in women.

Melanoma risks and causes

Melanoma is the 6th most common cancer overall in the UK (if non melanoma skin cancer is excluded). More women than men get melanoma.

There is one main factor that increases the risk of developing melanoma – ultraviolet light. Ultraviolet light comes from the sun or sunbeds. But some people are more at risk of getting melanoma than others. Risk factors related to sun exposure include

  • Moles – the more moles you have, the higher your risk
  • Being very fair skinned – especially with fair or red hair, or having lots of freckles (although people with darker skins can still get melanoma)
  • Sunburn – getting badly sunburned increases your risk of melanoma, particularly in childhood
  • Where you were born – fair skinned people born in a hot country, such as Australia or Israel, have a higher risk of melanoma throughout their life
  • Sun exposure – on holiday, as well as sitting in the sun or sunbathing at home
  • Sunbeds – using sunbeds, particularly before the age of 35

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