In summer, those of us with pale skin tend to fall into two camps: burners and tanners.
With light eyes, hair and a body covered in freckles, sadly it’s safe to say I’m a burner.
After having had a few bad cases of sunburn as a child I’ve always done my best to look after my skin and stay out of the sun where possible.
Not wanting to miss out on a golden glow, however, I did start to hit the sunbeds occasionally as I entered my twenties.
This recent spate of bad behaviour has caused me to wonder exactly how much risk I am putting myself in and according to research, I’m right to be concerned.
Today’s 15-24-year-olds are more likely than previous generations to develop melanoma in their lifetime. Melanoma is the fastest growing form of skin cancer in the UK, and although early detection is increasing survival rates, 40% of Brits say they never check their skin and even when they do, 77% said they would not recognise the signs of cancer.
I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t check my skin regularly. Being covered in freckles but only having one mole on my body, I assumed I didn’t need to.
Not having many moles, however, does not mean it can’t happen to you and I in fact tick all but one of the boxes indicating a higher risk with skin that burns in the sun easily, lots of freckles (or more than 50 moles), red or fair hair, and a childhood history of frequent sunburn – thankfully I have no family history of skin cancer.
So when Boots offered me the chance to try out their new mole-screening service, I jumped at it.
The high street pharmacy has partnered with ScreenCancer to provide high-quality medical services for the early detection of cancer. The Mole Screening Service is carried out by a member of the Boots Healthcare team and can help identify moles or pigmented lesions that require further investigation.
My one and only mole is on my right knee – a common place for melanoma to develop for women is on the lower leg, for men it’s on the back – and though to me it looks a normal shape, my mum has argued with me for years that it’s irregular and worth keeping an eye on.
Getting it checked
Two days after my first ever sunbed burn, I headed to the nearest branch of Boots to try out the service.
Sitting in the consultation room with the pharmacist, she asked me a few questions about my skin type and burning history.
Once I pointed out the mole I wanted to check and explained why I was concerned about it – for me it was because of the irregular shape and a change in colour – the scan was carried out using the SIAscope.
The imaging device emits light that goes 2mm below the surface of the skin and gives five different multi-coloured images that reflect the depth and shape of the mole.
Suddenly seeing my mole close-up on a screen in a blue light made me think it did look a bit of a dodgy shape and colour and my arrogant “it won’t happen to me” attitude was replaced with a flash of fear.
And as quickly as that the scan was over.
The images will now be sent to a qualified dermatologist at ScreenCancer who will assess them for signs of malignant melanoma.
The report is sent back within two weeks and if your mole or lesion is believed to put you at risk, you will be contacted to discuss the next step.
Thankfully, in my case, my mole required no further investigation but the experience has made me think to check my skin more regularly.
The service is available in selected Boots stores and costs £35 for one mole and £15 for each additional mole scanned.