Know the difference and stay safe by spotting melanoma early
Almost all of us have a few moles or freckles, especially those of us with certain skin types and those who spend a lot of time outdoors. But how do you tell the difference between a harmless mole and a potential melanoma? In this blog article, we take a look at the ways you can spot a melanoma and stop it in its tracks.
What is melanoma?
There are several different types of skin cancer. Melanoma is by far the deadliest of these and can occur in almost anyone. Melanoma develops in areas of the body which contain the pigment-producing melanocytes and melanomas can often resemble moles. Most melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be pink, blue, white or skin-toned. Those who spend a lot of time in the sun or have experienced repeated sunburn, are particularly susceptible to melanoma.
The ABCDE rule
- Asymmetry: Most moles and freckles will have a consistent size and shape. However, a melanoma will tend to be asymmetrical, meaning that one part of the spot is different to the rest.
- Border: The border of a melanoma is often irregular, jagged or blurred, whereas a regular mole will generally have a smooth and consistent border.
- Colour: Like the asymmetrical spot, part of a melanoma spot will often be a different colour to the rest of the spot. This doesn’t tend to happen often in harmless moles.
- Diameter: If the spot is larger than about ¼ of an inch across, it’s worth getting it checked. Although some moles can be this large, it can be a sign of a melanoma developing.
- Evolving: If the spot is changing over time, either in size, shape, or colour, this can indicate skin cancer.
Download the Cancer Council’s skin cancer identification poster here.
How to be sure
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes, an irregular mole can appear to be a potential melanoma. However, the opposite is also true. If you have spots on your skin which don’t seem to fall under any of the ABCDE indicators, it’s still worth checking out. Catching any type of skin cancer early is incredibly important, so here are our top tips for keeping an eye on your skin and reducing your risk of melanoma and other skin cancers:
- Get regular skin checks from your GP or skin cancer specialist
- Know your own skin: Keep an eye on your moles and spots to detect any changes
- Get help from a partner, family member or friend: Have someone you know check those areas you can’t see
- Avoid sunburn and sun damage by using a SPF 30 or SPF 50 sunscreen
- Cover up with a hat, long sleeves and sunglasses when heading out into the sun
- Find shade wherever possible
- Apply your sunscreen at least 20 minutes before heading into the sun
- Use a water- and sweat-resistant sunscreen
- Reapply your sunscreen at least every 2 hours, or more often if swimming or sweating
- Avoid the times of day with highest UV levels, generally between 10am and 4pm
Why sunscreen is so important
Over 90% of melanomas are caused by direct exposure to UV rays - either from the sun or from tanning beds – and yet, many people avoid using sunscreen. This worrying trend comes down to a lot of misinformation available online about the dangers of wearing sunscreen. The truth is, there is no credible evidence to suggest that wearing sunscreen is bad for your health, and in fact, it is the only way to prevent your exposed skin from the sun and its harmful UV rays. Some people, on the other hand, avoid using sunscreen because they find that it irritates the skin or feels unpleasant when applied, therefore, choosing an alcohol-free, oil-free sunscreen which is kind to sensitive skin is important.
Studies show that regular use of sunscreen can reduce the chances of melanoma by between 50 and 73%. When used as directed, an SPF 30 (or higher) broad-spectrum sunscreen used in addition to protective clothing and other sun safety measures will dramatically decrease your risk of melanoma.
Only a broad-spectrum sunscreen will protect against both UVA and UVB rays, so be sure to look out for indication that your sunscreen is broad-spectrum.
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