Irish people are a freckly bunch. Whether old or young, fair or brunette, we tend to have a multitude of freckles across our noses, cheeks and forearms. We’re also prone to moles, and while these usually aren’t dangerous, sometimes they can be an indicator of skin cancer. How familiar are you with yours?
A mole is a small cluster of pigment-producing cells that forms in an oval or circular shape on the skin. It can be flat or raised; smooth or rough; light or dark in colour, and sometimes it can have hair growing out of it.
As moles can look different from person to person, it’s vital you become familiar with yours. As soon as your ‘normal’ begins to change, it’s time to get it professionally checked.
How to check your moles at home
According to the Irish Cancer Society, cases of melanoma in Ireland have reached a record high. So much so, the National Cancer Registry shows diagnoses of the illness have more than trebled in the last 20 years.
Frighteningly, almost 160 Irish people die from melanoma every year, but if it’s caught early, these people have a 90% chance of surviving.
Boots pharmacist Susan O’Dwyer recommends using the ABCDE guide to check your moles at home. If your mole has any of the following characteristics, it’s advised you get a mole scan carried out as soon as possible.
A – Asymmetry: irregular shape – the two halves should be symmetrical
B – Borders: unclear, irregular or ragged boundaries against normal skin
C – Colour: changes in colour – especially black, blue or uneven colours
D – Diameter: more than 5-6mm in diameter and changes in size
E – Evolving: changes in shape, size and colour, itching or bleeding of existing moles, or a new mole
Mole scans can be carried out by a dermatologist, as well as in 17 Boots branches across Ireland. Developed in conjunction with ScreenCancer, the Boots' Mole Scanning Service allows people aged 18 and over to have their moles (or pigmented lesions) scanned using a specialist device called a SIAscope. The process takes about 20 minutes in total.
A dermatologist will then assess the scan and you will receive a report (either by letter or by text) within one week. If anything suspicious is identified, you will be referred to your doctor or skin specialist for follow-on treatment. While the mole scanning service doesn’t provide a diagnosis of skin cancer, it can help identify any suspicious characteristics that might need further investigation.
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Speaking to IMAGE.ie, pharmacist Susan O’Dwyer said, "Not every mole needs to be scanned. People may choose to have a scan if the mole is something they are concerned about.
"It’s a good idea to check your skin every few months, so you’re aware of any changes that may happen," she says. "Pay attention to moles and pigmented lesions that are different from others on your body. The most common place for melanoma to develop is on the lower leg for women and on the back for men."
She adds, "I would encourage anyone who is worried about a mole to pop into a participating Boots pharmacy, especially if the mole has changed size, shape or colour recently. Our teams can advise you on the best way to stay safe in the sun, provide you with information on how to self-check your moles and scan suspicious lesions if required."
For more information or to book a mole scan, visit boots.ie/health/mole-scanning.
Photo: Cindy Crawford, Instagram
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