'I didnt realise how serious skin cancer could be'

Carol and Pinja share their stories

Did you know that in the last 25 years, rates of malignant melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer, has risen faster than any of the top 10 cancers in males and females in the UK? Many people underestimate the risk of skin cancer, but it’s important that we understand the facts and know what to look out for and what to do if we spot something concerning. 

Skin cancer is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. Here, two skin cancer patients; Carol and Pinja, who were both diagnosed with early-stage malignant melanoma last year, share their experiences. We spoke to them about their treatment under the care of Dr Ramia Mokbel, Consultant Dermatologist at The Princess Grace Hospital and The Harley Street Clinic, both part of HCA Healthcare UK, and how their attitudes to sun safety have changed since their diagnoses.


Concerning moles

Carol only decided to have a consultation with Dr Kamia Mokbel after another medical specialist expressed their concern.

Carol comments: “Three years ago I was treated for breast cancer at The Princess Grace Hospital. I have been having regular follow-up appointments, and a few months ago during one of these check-ups, a concerning freckle was spotted on my breast. I was advised that I should see a dermatologist to get the freckle checked and any other moles too. I had been meaning to get my moles checked for a while as a friend had mentioned that a mole on my head looked a little different than before. During my consultation with Dr Mokbel, she carried out a mole mapping procedure, where digital images were taken of every mole on my body and analysed to check for atypical moles.”

Pinja's decision

Unlike Carol, Pinja’s decision to see Dr Mokbel was not driven by a concern or medical recommendation, but after her husband had the mole mapping procedure, together they thought that she should have it done too.

Pinja comments: “He had been to see Dr Mokbel after noticing a concerning mole on his neck. He also had a mole mapping procedure, and as a result of this procedure, he had two moles removed and biopsied, both of which came back absolutely fine. We then together decided that despite me not having any concerns about my moles, why not go for the procedure? From my mole mapping, a suspicious mole was removed on my back and taken for biopsy.”

Receiving their results

A week after their moles were removed, both women went back for a consultation with Dr Mokbel to remove the stitches and learn the results of their biopsies. The biopsies revealed that both women had early-stage malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer. 

Pinja comments on her diagnosis: “I went to see Dr Mokbel on my birthday to have my stitches removed and receive the results. When she said that in fact it was much more serious than I initially thought, and that it was malignant melanoma I was so shocked. Luckily, because my mole was spotted at an early stage, the cancer had therefore not penetrated the skin very far and it hadn’t spread, otherwise my story could have been very different. I had a small procedure to remove the surrounding tissue from where the mole was to ensure all the cancerous cells were removed.”

For Carol this was her second cancer diagnosis, but looking back, she felt incredibly thankful that she was referred for further tests: “I couldn’t believe it when I was diagnosed with cancer for a second time in three years. Thankfully, the cancer I had was only at the epidermis level and therefore could be treated. Looking back, the mole did have some red flags, it was about the size of the nail on my baby finger, which is larger than a normal mole should be, and it was also not one, uniform colour, and instead consisted of a number of tiny moles that looked stuck together. I think I’m still processing how lucky I am, and how thankful I am that the mole was spotted early. I will soon be having another procedure to remove the surrounding cancerous cells, but that should be the extent of my treatment.”

Their advice to others

Both Carol and Pinja will have regular mole mapping with Dr Mokbel every four months so that any mole changes can be recognised and treatment can be given where appropriate. Both women were also made aware that having one diagnosis of malignant melanoma can make you more likely to be diagnosed with it again, so it’s so important that they remain vigilant and look out for any changes.

Carol and Pinja say their attitude towards sun safety has changed dramatically as a result of their diagnoses. Carol adds: “When I was younger, I lived in America and spent so much time outside in the sun – applying sunscreen wasn’t the norm back then. Now, whenever I leave the house in the spring or summer, even if the sun isn’t shining, I will apply sunscreen to ensure I’m protected. I think more people should take the risk of skin cancer seriously when out in the sun.”

Pinja adds: “This experience has made me change my attitude to sunbathing. Before my diagnosis, I would love to get what I like to call a ‘healthy glow’ from sunbathing, when actually it’s anything but healthy. This summer I will be staying in the shade as much as I can, and only using fake tanning products to maintain a ‘healthy glow’. I also have two daughters, and this had made me incredibly protective of their skin too.”

“I think that the risk that skin cancer poses is being massively underestimated by people who think that it isn’t serious or life-threatening. It’s so important that everyone looks out for changes in their skin, and doesn’t ignore any changes.” 

Whilst these women have vowed to be more vigilant, it’s important we all take steps to look after our skin health. 

If you’re concerned about a mole which has changed in appearance, book to see your GP or dermatologist

This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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