If you notice a change to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin, tell your doctor.

Dr Adrian Burt

If you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your skin, go to your doctor. Chances are it's nothing serious, but if it's skin cancer, finding it early makes it more treatable. Call your GP today.

Could it be cancer?

Changes to a mole or freckle can be a sign of skin cancer, which is why it's so important to see your doctor straight away. Early detection makes it easier to treat. Seeing your doctor could save your life.

Early diagnosis not only means that treatment is less invasive, it could also save your life.

Bill Norton, aged 70

What do I look for?

The most common sign of skin cancer is a change to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin. It's important to know your skin and what it looks like normally so you notice any unusual or persistent changes. Use a mirror, or ask your partner or a friend to check the areas of your skin that you can't see.

Below are some things to look out for in melanoma skin cancer. Please be aware that not all skin cancers look like this. These pictures are just examples and are not to scale.

skin cancer


The two sides don't look the same.

skin cancer


Irregular border — edges may be blurred or jagged.

skin cancer


Uneven colour, with more than one shade.

skin cancer


Large size — usually at least the size of the end of a pencil.

Images courtesy of Cancer Research UK

Are there other symptoms of skin cancer?

A change to a mole, freckle or normal patch of skin is a common sign of skin cancer, but there are also other signs to be aware of, including:

  • a new growth or sore that doesn’t heal
  • a spot, mole or sore that itches or hurts
  • a mole or growth that bleeds, crusts or scabs

If you notice any of these signs, see your GP. If you know anyone who has any of these symptoms, insist they see their doctor.

What will happen at my GP appointment?

It's very important to see your doctor if you notice any unusual or persistent changes to your skin. You doctor will want to see you, and you're not wasting anyone’s time by getting checked out. 

At your appointment, your GP will look at your skin and ask you what changes you have noticed. Your doctor may also ask about your personal and family history and about your exposure to the sun — whether you’ve had peeling sunburns or frequent exposure to ultraviolet radiation, such as from tanning beds.

If your doctor suspects cancer, you’ll be referred to a specialist for diagnosis and treatment.


Hear from our GPs

Find out what to expect when you see your doctor – watch the video.

How melanoma spreads

About skin cancer

Skin cancer is very common in England. There are two main types of skin cancer: the more common but less serious non-melanoma, and malignant melanoma, often just called melanoma.

Most people diagnosed with skin cancer are over 50, but anyone can develop skin cancer.

You're more likely to get it if you have any of the following:

  • lots of moles or freckles
  • fair skin that burns easily
  • red or fair hair
  • light-coloured eyes
  • a history of sunburn
  • a personal or family history of skin cancer

Reduce your risk

Most skin cancers are caused by too much sun. You shouldn't avoid the sun completely, as it is an important source of vitamin D.

However, to reduce the risk of skin cancer, avoid sunburn by:

  • spending time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest, usually between 11am and 3pm, from March to October
  • covering up with clothes that protect you from the sun
  • wearing sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 and a high star rating

Even if it is cool or cloudy, you could burn in the middle of the day in summer. It's also possible to burn at other times of the day and year.

Take extra care when in sunnier climates – you may burn quickly, even when it isn't hot.

Sunbeds and sunlamps can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. Public Health England recommends that you don't use them, except for medical reasons.

Other ways to reduce your risk

A healthy lifestyle can help you reduce your risk of skin cancer. Some ways to stay healthy are:

  • stop smoking – if you smoke, the best thing you can do for your health is to quit. There's plenty of support available from the NHS. Visit nhs.uk/smokefree or call 0300 123 1044.
  • look after yourself – try to maintain a healthy weight and keep active. Swimming, cycling, dancing, walking – the more you can do, the better. Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet too, with plenty of fruit and vegetables.
  • cut down on alcohol – drinking too much alcohol can lead to a number of health problems. By drinking less, you'll reduce your health risks.

For more information on how to reduce your risk of cancer, visit nhs.uk/reduce-your-risk.

Content last reviewed: May 2016

Bill's story