Woman told mole on arm benign after check-up – doctors discovered something else

Skin cancer: Dr Chris outlines the signs of a melanoma

Shirley Back, a civil servant from Scotland, spent three years of her childhood in Singapore after her dad was posted there for work.

During this time, she remembers running around with hardly anything anything on, including sunscreen, and regularly getting sunburned skin.

In 2005, Shirley visited the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, Renfrewshire for an appointment about a mole on her arm she didn’t like the look of.

The mole was declared benign, but the doctor discovered something else.

After an all over skin check, his attention was drawn to a raised brown mole on her knee, which had been steadily growing and requested she had an immediate biopsy.

A few days later he called her to request a face-to-face appointment in which he revealed her stage 2 melanoma diagnosis.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can spread to other areas of the body, and the main cause is ultraviolet light from the sun and sunbeds.

Two weeks later Shirley attended the Royal Infirmary for an operation to have the mole cut out and was left with a 6” long scar on her knee.

Because of the position, she couldn’t bend her leg for over six weeks. This was made worse due to an infection adding a further two weeks to recovery and worsening of the already large scar.

A few years later, Shirley noticed that a mole on her shoulder blade was very itchy.

Again, she visited a specialist, and this turned out to be stage 1 melanoma, which was again cut out, leaving her with another scar, and a reminder how lucky she is.

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In Shirley’s opinion, sun protection habits in the UK are typically very poor, which is more to do with habit and perceptions around sun protection, rather than knowledge.

As a golfer she also sees lots of fellow golfers returning from the greens with sunburned skin and fears they are storing up future health problems.

Shirley said: “It is so frustrating seeing people being so blasé around sun protection.

“With melanoma being the 5th most common cancer in the UK and with incidences ever increasing, playing outdoors without protecting your skin is so dangerous. It’s never too late to develop good habits around sun protection and if you spot something that concerns you, don’t delay, get to your GP immediately.

“If I hadn’t, I most certainly wouldn’t be here to talk about it.”

The main symptoms of melanoma skin cancer are a new mole or a change in an existing mole. If you notice any changes to your moles you should see your GP.

Michelle Baker, CEO Melanoma Fund, said: “We are grateful to Shirley for using her melanoma diagnosis for good and raising awareness.

“Approximately 12,000 people are diagnosed every year with skin cancer in Scotland, of which around 3,000 are squamous cell carcinomas (SCC).

“In addition, around 1,200 cases of melanoma are registered per annum. The incidence of all types of skin cancer is rising.”

Shirley was the Lady Captain at Douglas Park Golf Club in 2022 and selected the Melanoma Fund as her club charity, helping raise £2,400 for the charity over the year.

The Melanoma Fund is the first UK organisation to focus on addressing skin cancer in sport and outdoor recreation. The charity’s awareness campaigns provide targeted advice and clear calls to action to educate individuals, and empower organisations with all they need to educate, inspire, and activate better habits, ensure sport and the great outdoors is a safer for all. For further details visit www.melanoma-fund.co.uk.

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