While some of us fret over every freckle, others are blithely oblivious to the danger of skin cancer – but there is a middle way
Check your moles regularly is advice routinely trotted out by beauty journalists and dermatologists, but what, in practice, does it mean? The basics are that moles shouldn’t change in size or shape (take timestamped photos every three to four months and store them in a dedicated folder on your phone, so you can monitor any developments). Their rounded footprint should not become jagged or irregular; any changes in colour or sensitivity should be reported soonest to your GP.
The NHS advises people to ask a pharmacist about moles, and it also has a mole care app. But in a Covid world it’s easy to ignore minor changes in favour of helping to lighten the NHS load. If you’ve convinced yourself that you’re making undue fuss it might be worth paying for a mole check service if you can afford it.
In a Covid world it’s easy to ignore minor changes in favour of helping to lighten the NHS load
Last month, I visited my local SK:N clinic for precisely that. My consultant, registered nurse Sophie Reading, conducts mole checks on about 50 patients a week, from those with one isolated freckle (a single mole examination costs £50) to those with a top-to-toe constellation of moles (£140 for a full body check).
She, or a colleague, peers carefully through a magnifying loupe at each dot, spot or mound, separating fingers and toes, exploring roots of the hair, inside ears and anywhere else we might not think or manage to look.
Despite seven Britons dying of melanoma each day, most skin cancers are less dangerous and treatable if caught early, and Reading has intercepted plenty of developing cases, as well as reassured many perfectly healthy patients suffering from undue anxiety (she says the problem is rife since the pandemic).
Minor issues such as healthy mole removals are dealt with on site, whether by freezing, laser or excision. Complex or ambiguous findings are referred urgently to an NHS doctor and, where appropriate, to specialists for an emergency appointment usually within a fortnight. In any case, any concerning findings are photographed with a dermascope and sent to histology for investigation in the meantime.
All remaining well, I’ll return in a year. Because, while standing legs apart in my pants while a stranger peered into my bum cellulite wasn’t my favourite moment of 2021, hearing that my handful of moles were healthily unremarkable was certainly one of them. May I remind you yet again that this whole sunscreen business really does pay off.