An increasing number of people are being diagnosed with melanoma. It usually starts in the skin, in a mole or in normal-looking skin, and is the most common cancer in people aged 15 to 34.

The main factor that increases the risk of developing melanoma is exposure to UV radiation, either from natural sunlight or sunbeds/lamps. People with fair skin, freckles, red or fair hair and blue eyes are usually more sensitive to the sun. However being darker, including having brown or black skin, doesn’t prevent you developing melanoma. Severe sunburn, especially during childhood, also increases the risk. People with lots of moles or ones that are larger than average, dark, hairy or irregularly shaped have a higher risk and should keep an eye on their moles. 5-10 per cent of melanomas are thought to be genetic. These faulty genes are also linked to pancreatic cancer so a family history of two or more close relatives who have had melanoma or pancreatic cancer may indicate increased risk of developing melanoma. A weakened immune system may also increase risk.

Things to look out for

A checklist of symptoms has been devised to help look out for melanomas:

A – Asymmetry – healthy moles are symmetrical so both halves look the same. You may notice that a mole becomes asymmetrical, meaning there are differences in the mole.

B – Border – healthy moles have a definite border or edge, however you may notice an irregular and sometimes jagged edge with melanoma.

C – Colour – healthy moles are one shade of brown; melanomas can be various colours or a mixture of colours including brown/red/pink/black/white or even have a blue tint.

D – Diameter – a healthy mole tends to be no more than 6mm wide; melanomas tend to be larger in size, around 7mm plus.

E – Evolving – with melanoma there is likely to be change in the size and shape of the mole, which is why it is important to monitor these changes.

Other symptoms may include:

  • A bleeding mole and/or scabbing/crusting of the surface of the mole
  • Itchiness or tingling sensation of a mole
  • Changes in shape, size or colour of a mole or any other unusual changes
  • A pigmented line in a nail or a growth beneath a nail

It is important to see your doctor as soon as you notice any changes in a mole or area of your skin; the quicker melanoma treatment begins, the more effective it can be. These symptoms can be related to other medical conditions but, due to the nature of skin cancer, it is important you speak to your doctor/consultant if you experience any of these symptoms.