How to check for skin cancer

Are you checking your moles? No, not the hairy ones that dig up your lawn, I’m talking about the ones that appear on your body and occasionally turn malignant.

Something not quite right about these...
Something not quite right about these…

Yesterday, Jamie and I decided it would be churlish not to use the excellent health facilities here in Phuket. One thing that has been bugging us both is the potential damage we have been doing to our skin with all this lovely sunshine over in the tropics. We’ve grown a few new moles, freckles, weird polyp things and strange blemishes on various bits of our ample bodies. Now, we’re not the kind who like to sun-bathe, and most of the time we cover up. We don’t use sunscreen because in this heat and humidity it just slips off into our eyes, mouth and other comfy crevices. But, occasionally, we overdo it, forget to cover up and fry.

The Bangkok Hospital in Phuket is a galaxy away from the NHS hospitals we’re used to in the UK, in fact it’s more like a 5 star hotel. We walked in, were seen immediately, and walked out two hours later having had a thorough seeing-to by a teeny-weeny, pale-skinned dermatology specialist named Dr Vasinee Kerdvongbundit. Jamie had the all clear, and while he was there took advantage of a treatment to laser away some of those marks which were marring his beauty.

I wasn’t so lucky. High on my back, Dr Kerdvongbundit found an evil raised black mark surrounded by redness. I, clearly, couldn’t see it, but Jamie said it was 1mm in diameter, and obvious if you knew what you were looking for.

And that’s the thing of it. Do you know what to look for? And do you have someone to check those places you can’t see? I’ve been pretty vigilant about my old moles, checking to see if they change shape or colour, but that’s about it. A little Google research using the NHS websites and Cancer Research came up with some useful advice. Apologies in advance for shameless cribbing straight from the page, but I figured both august institutions would be less bothered by plagiarism and more interested in getting the word out.

Make friends with your moles

…so you’ll notice if anything changes. Check them regularly and see the doc if you notice any of the following:
1. Moles with uneven colouring – most moles only have one or two colours, but melanomas have lots of different shades;
2. Moles with an uneven or ragged edge – moles are usually circular or oval with a smooth border;
3. Moles which are bleeding, itching, red, inflamed (swollen) or crusty;
4. Moles that get a lot bigger – most moles are no bigger than the width of a pencil;
This acronym may help:
A – asymmetry
B – border irregularity
C – colour change
D – diameter
E – elevated (raised) or enlarged

No t shirt, no sunscreen, no sunglasses = stupid
No T shirt, no sunscreen, no sunglasses. No sense.

Take preventative measures

Another acronym to remember:
S – Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
M – Make sure you never burn.
A – Aim to cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses.
R – Remember to take extra care with children.
T – Then use factor 15+ sunscreen. (I think SPF15 is too low, even using SPF50 I end up with a golden tan)

The eyes have it

Most of us know about sun damage to the skin, but too often our eyes are equally vulnerable. Long-term exposure to sunlight increases the risk of a type of cataract and is also linked to pterygia (growths on the surface of the eye).

Simon Kelly, of the Royal College of Ophthalmologists, warns that sun can burn the eyes too. “Over-exposure to ultraviolet light, such as a day at the beach without proper eye protection, can cause a temporary but painful burn to the surface of the eye, similar to sunburn on the skin,” he says.

He adds that reflected sunlight from snow and water, and artificial light from sunbeds, is particularly dangerous.

It’s worth taking some precautions with the windows of your soul by investing in a good pair of sunglasses or two. Our friend Katie likes Raybans. When you’re shopping for sunglasses, choose a pair that has one of the following:
1. the CE Mark and British Standard (BS EN ISO 12312-1:2013);
2. a UV 400 label;
3. a statement that the sunglasses offer 100% UV protection.
And remember to think about the sides of your eyes, consider sunglasses with wide or wraparound arms.

So what next for me? Well, the biopsy results come back in a couple of weeks and in the meantime I have a waterproof plaster over the wound and cannot swim until the stitches are removed. So I’ll be watching Jamie frolic in the warm, beautiful ocean while I sweat away in the shade with slippery sunscreened skin under a T shirt and trousers. I’ll let you know how it goes.


News came through today from the hospital that the biopsy showed no sign of malignancy or cell dysplasia, so I’m happy to say that I am in the clear. But I am lucky, it was a lesson learned, and I will try to be more vigilant in the future.

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6 thoughts on “How to check for skin cancer”

  1. I like how you said that you need to have someone who can look at the places you can’t see when it comes to a skin cancer check. Having a good dermatologist who you can go to or a family member with a good eye could be really important. That way you could get an early start on preventing the cancer from spreading.

  2. Thank you so much Liz for your highly informative video! It was excellent. You covered all the bases so succinctly. Wishing you all the best with your biopsy outcome.

    On another note, I sure hope things turn around for you both and all you have been through with Esper’ various issues. I truly admire you both and what you have together! Have you ever considered becoming consultants for those who experience difficulty communicating with their partners? You two are amazing!

    I love everything you have shared since I began following your adventures on Esper with Millie. Thank you so much for all you have given! Cheers! Smooth sailing!

    1. Thanks so much for the warm message, Connie, you don’t know how much it means to both of us. It’s been amazing having you along for the ride, and I’d love to to think that one day we could meet up, I have the feeling we’d get along so well. Not sure Jamie and I’d make great couple counsellers–you don’t see all the in between bits, hahaha! Still, there might be room for a ‘web-cruising-couple-counselling-service’, I’ll have a think about that one… xxx

  3. This is a very, VERY important post here! Now that it’s nice and warm out, it’s very tempting to stay out in the sun… but if you do that, you need to know the signs of skin cancer like this. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’ve just been to the dermatologist here in Victoria and she zapped me good! I look like I’ve got a serious case of blistering zits. Your information is good. Cover up with clothes and cream and stay out of the sun as much as is possible. I wish you all the best with your mole and stay on the lookout for others that may not be healthy. Deb xx

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