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Mole count an indicator of skin cancer risk

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer affecting more than 13,000 people in the UK each year. Recent studies have shown that counting moles on body area such as arm could indicate whether somebody may be at risk of developing melanoma. This could be a very useful tool in assessing skin cancer risk in primary care; allowing GPs to more accurately and efficiently estimate the total number of moles in a patient through an easily accessible body part. Mole count

Counting the entire number of moles can be time-consuming for clinicians and difficult for individuals to do by themselves. Researchers wanted to see if there was a handy proxy that would predict with a reasonable degree of accuracy a person’s total mole count.

About 20% to 40% of melanoma is thought to arise from pre-existing moles, and having more than 100 moles on the body could be a strong indicator of the risk of developing skin cancer.

A recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology has shown that people with more than seven moles on their right arm have nine times the risk of having more than 50 on their whole body. Those with more than 11 moles on their right arm have approximately nine times the risk of having more than 100 moles on their body, meaning they are at a higher risk of developing a melanoma.

To read more about the study go to: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bjd.14216/abstract.

Look out for signs

Although the study could help GPs to more easily identify those at the highest risk of developing a melanoma, people should not be neglecting the rest of the body and look just at their arms before they see their GPs. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the body, and is most common on the trunk in men and the legs in women. Some of the common risk factors for melanoma include having red or fair hair, fair skin, light-coloured eyes or having been sunburnt in the past. Any changes in the appearance of a new, suspicious-looking mole, or a change in appearance to an existing mole, should be considered alarming.

A helpful way to tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma is the ABCDE checklist:

  • Asymmetrical – melanomas have two very different halves and are an irregular shape.

  • Border – melanomas have a notched or ragged border.

  • Colours – melanomas will be a mix of two or more colours.

  • Diameter – melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter.

  • Enlargement or elevation – a mole that changes size over time is more likely to be a melanoma.
Consequences

The consequences of a delay in the diagnosis of skin cancer can be devastating for individuals and their families.  It can mean the difference between the possibility of curative treatment and palliation; where the aim of treatment is only to relieve the end of life symptoms.  Patients' vigilance and the expertise of health professionals can assist in detecting a melanoma at an early stage and thus save lives.

Sadly, we still see a considerable number of clinical negligence cases, where people face a terminal diagnosis as a result of a negligent failure in their diagnosis or treatment of skin cancer.   Fieldfisher are specialists in dealing with cancer claims. We have acted for clients who face terminal diagnosis or for families who have lost their loved ones due to negligence.

To read how we recovered damages for Martin whose wife, Laura, died after a malignant melanoma went undiagnosed for nine months go to: http://www.fieldfisher.com/personalinjury/case-studies/medical-negligence/cancer-delayed-diagnosis/delay-in-diagnosis-of-skin-cancer

By Marlena Mistak, Paralegal

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