Worried about a suspicious-looking mole or lesion on your skin? Discover the signs of skin cancer and how best to protect yourself with this expert advice from Marc Donovan, chief pharmacist at Boots

marc Donovan pharmacist at Boots pharmacists; man wearing suit smiling at the camera

Pharmacist Mark Donovan explains how to spot the signs of skin cancer

What is skin cancer? 

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK. However, if detected early it can often be successfully treated. This is why it is important to recognise the signs and symptoms. There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma and melanoma. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common than melanoma, is usually less serious and affects more men than women.  

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What are the signs of skin cancer? 

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is usually a lump, lesion or discoloured patch that does not go away and often progresses slowly over months or even years. It often develops on areas of skin regularly exposed to the sun with overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light being the main cause.

Other risk factors include having pale skin that burns easily, a large number of moles or freckles, a family history of skin cancer or a previous non-melanoma skin cancer.

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How serious is skin cancer?

Melanoma is often more serious than non-melanoma skin cancer and may spread to other organs in the body. The most common symptom of melanoma skin cancer is the appearance of a new mole or a change in appearance of an existing mole. The back is the most commonly affected area in men, while the legs are the most affected area for women.

You should speak to a GP if you notice a new mole or changes to an existing mole. This can include changes in shape or if it starts to look uneven, changes colour, starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding or gets larger or more raised from the skin.   

How can I reduce my risk? 

To reduce your risk of skin cancer, it’s important to try and limit the amount of time you spend in the sun during the hottest part of the day. You should also cover exposed skin, especially if you have lots of moles. It’s also important to regularly apply a high-factor sunscreen, with a minimum SPF30, especially after swimming. 

Where can I get checked for skin cancer? 

You should see a GP if you have any skin abnormality such as a lump, ulcer or lesion that has not healed after four weeks, or if you notice a new mole or a change to an existing mole. The GP may refer you to a specialist clinic or hospital if they think it should be checked out.

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What does treatment for skin cancer involve?  

Surgery is the main treatment for non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancer. It involves removing the cancerous tumour and some of the surrounding skin, although that will depend on your particular circumstances.

If melanoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, surgery is usually successful. So, don’t forget to regularly check your skin and remember early diagnosis is key.

You can also visit your pharmacist for advice about moles or use the Mole Scanning Service that is available in a number of Boots pharmacies*. The service doesn’t provide a diagnosis of skin cancer. However, ScreenCancer Dermatology Specialists will analyse images of the moles or lesions. They can then help to identify any that might be suspicious and need further investigation from a GP.” 

For ‘convenient care without the hassle’, visit onlinedoctor.boots.com 

*Eligibility criteria and charges apply. Subject to availability.