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.
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.
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.
The two sides don't look the same.
Irregular border — edges may be blurred or jagged.
Uneven colour, with more than one shade.
Large size — usually at least the size of the end of a pencil.
Images courtesy of Cancer Research UK
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:
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.
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.
Find out what to expect when you see your doctor – watch the video.
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:
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:
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.
A healthy lifestyle can help you reduce your risk of skin cancer. Some ways to stay healthy are:
For more information on how to reduce your risk of cancer, visit nhs.uk/reduce-your-risk.
Content last reviewed: May 2016