train approaching worker

Zena writes:

Please be careful in the sun. My freckle turned out to be cancerous.

Luckily for me, it was caught before it spread.

The picture shows the ‘freckle’. I’d noticed it in summer 2014, and asked about it, but been told it was just a pigmented area.

cancer freckleBut it started to get bigger. So I went back to the GP, who agreed to refer me to a dermatologist.

By the time I saw the dermatologist in autumn 2015 it had changed a fair bit from the original freckle: it was raised, was different colours with a little pale ‘halo’ around it, and it hurt deep down if I bumped it. So I wanted it gone. The dermatologist wasn’t convinced there was a problem. But he agreed if I was really upset, it could be taken out.

I went to a clinic in Kenton where it was whipped out with minimum fuss and sent for tests. I was relieved, and didn’t mind having to keep it dry for a fortnight (although washing my hair with my arm wrapped up in a plastic bag was tricky).

But when I went back for the (‘routine’) follow up, the dermatologist said it was a ‘surprise result’ and I’d had a ‘narrow squeak’. It was a melanoma in situ – that means a malignant melanoma that hadn’t quite kicked off – and it had been caught in time.

There are apparently two sorts of skin cancer.

  • A basal cell carcinoma or ‘rodent ulcer’ is nasty and unsightly, and can be a bit tough to treat. However, it stays in place and doesn’t spread.
  • Melanoma isn’t nearly as unattractive, but it grows quietly down through the skin layers. Once it’s grown down below the top layers of skin, it sends cancer cells around your body. Where they settle, you get other cancers.

So if it had grown down just a little further, I would by now have had cancer racing happily around inside me. Radiotherapy, chemotherapy etc would have followed.

But it was caught in time. I had to go to Central Middlesex hospital to have the whole area taken out – the NICE guidelines say that you need a clear 5mm margin of healthy tissue around the melanoma to be sure. I now have a fairly long scar on my arm, but that is that, as long as I don’t get any other suspicious moles. I try to be sensible about the sun, so that shouldn’t happen.

Construction work is often outdoors.

So please be careful in the sun. Avoid getting suntanned and sunburned. Cover up as much as possible. While working indoors is no guarantee you won’t get skin cancer, if you work outside you’re more at risk. Although you should be fairly well covered when wearing PPE, be aware of areas (like your nose) that are exposed to the sun. Use a high factor sunscreen for skin you can’t cover, and reapply it regularly.

There is no ‘healthy tan’ – it’s skin damage, and the more you damage your skin, the more likely you are to develop skin cancer.

Zena Wigram
Author: Zena Wigram, marketing and communications manager

And if you have a mole that worries you, get it checked out. Have a look at the NHS website guide to moles, which lists ABCDE signs such as a change in the border, colour or diameter, that might be a cause for concern.

The dermatologist gave me this factsheet on melanoma by the British Association of Dermatologists (650kb pdf).

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