How To Spot The Signs Of Skin Cancer This Winter
It’s cold, dark, grey and it’s often wet. Winter is when we’re most likely to be covered up in layers of knits, coats, scarves, and boots. With barely any of our skin exposed during these long dark months, it’s easy to miss the signs of skin cancer.
The ongoing Covid crisis also means that many of us might feel reluctant to go to the GP at the moment, even if we do notice something unusual on our skin. Here we take a look at what you can do yourself to help detect skin cancer early.
Check your skin – even during the winter
Consultant Dermatologist Dr Manuraj Singh, a specialist in skin cancer, warns that it’s important to remain vigilant at this time of year – especially when you’re more covered up. He explains why. ‘People are more likely to spot the first signs of skin cancer during the spring or the summer, but the disease can begin at any time – it’s often gradual, and doesn’t necessarily develop straight after sun exposure.’
Dr Singh recommends carrying out a self-assessment during these winter months. ‘It’s very easy, just get undressed and stand in front of a mirror, and have a thorough look for anything new that stands out – a new or changing mole, or any new lumps, bumps or inflammation of the skin that won’t heal’. Ideally, he says you should repeat this a couple of times over the winter months. According to Dr Singh, you are more at risk if you are fair skinned, have had a lot of sun exposure in the past, or if you have a family history of skin cancer.
Monitor your moles
A new mole or a change in appearance in an existing mole can be the first sign of melanoma. Although it is relatively rare compared to other skin cancers, it can be fatal if left untreated. According to Cancer Research UK, the number of people developing melanoma is rising and it is now the fifth most common cancer in this country, with over 16 000 people diagnosed every year.
Most cases of melanoma, however, are curable - 87% in fact. So early detection is key, and it’s really important you make an appointment to see your GP or a specialist if you are at all concerned about your skin.
Get to know your ABCDE
The simplest way to spot the early signs of melanoma is to use the ABCDE system, designed by experts to help you assess your moles. ABCDE stands for asymmetry, border, colour, diameter and evolution. This means that you should look out for any one of the following signs:
- asymmetry - where one side of a mole is different to the other
- a border that’s irregular or ‘fuzzy’
- changes to colour - a variety of colours could indicate a problem
- a growth in diameter, or any mole over 8mm
- any recent change or ‘evolution’ in a mole
Dr Singh recommends that if you notice any one of these symptoms in a mole, it is a good idea to get it checked by a specialist as soon as you can.
Remember, it’s not just about your moles
It’s important to keep an eye on all parts of your skin – not just your moles. Non-melanoma skin cancers account for over 90% of all skin cancer cases and are unconnected to moles. They can sometimes be hard to spot as they vary so much in appearance.
Signs you should look out for include a scab or sore that won’t heal, a scaly patch of inflamed skin, and any unusual lumps that are increasing in size, including one with a pearly rim. Luckily, most non-melanoma cancers are not life threatening, and treatment is straightforward in the majority of cases. However, certain unusual types may behave aggressively and therefore early detection and treatment is still important.
Don’t be afraid to seek help
This winter is a difficult time for us all. Added to the usual seasonal pressures, the pandemic has meant that many hospital appointments have been cancelled or delayed. Many of us are also reluctant to seek help from our GPs as we are worried about burdening the health service.
However don’t be afraid to get any signs or symptoms of skin cancer examined by an expert as soon as you can, as the disease is much easier to treat if detected early. For example, the majority of melanoma cases only require a straightforward surgical procedure to remove the lesion, but if your cancer has been neglected you may need more complex treatment.
If you are worried about any changes to your skin and would like to find out more, or make an appointment with one of our Consultant Dermatologists, please call 020 724 4200.