How to spot skin cancer using the ‘ugly duckling rule’ amid UK heatwave

According to experts, one of the easiest ways to spot skin cancer is to use the ugly duckling rule.

With the simple exam, you can spot unusual-looking moles, spots, and growths, which are important warning signs of melanoma.


As a general rule, if a birthmark stands out or looks different than others around it, you should have it examined by a doctor.

The Skin Cancer Foundation says, “This detection strategy is based on the concept that most normal moles on the body resemble one another, while melanomas stand out like ugly ducklings in comparison.”

“This underscores the importance of not only checking for irregularities, but also comparing each suspicious spot to surrounding moles to see if it looks different from its neighbors.”

“These ugly duckling lesions can be larger, smaller, lighter or darker compared to the surrounding birthmarks.”

However, it is also important to look for isolated lesions as these can also be viewed as ugly ducklings.

The ABCCE checklist is a handy way to remind yourself what to look out for.

  • ASymmetry – most melanomas are uneven or irregular in shape
  • BOrder – the edges around a melanoma are likely to be bumpy, irregular, or jagged
  • CColor – melanomas are usually more than one color (for example, different shades such as brown mixed with black, red, pink, white, or blue).
  • DDiameter – melanomas are usually more than 6 mm wide
  • Evolving – be aware of changes in the size, shape, or color of a mole

If you notice any of these changes, as well as other unusual patches of skin that last more than a few weeks, a mole that tingles or itch, one that’s crusting or bleeding, or something growing under a nail, look right away your family doctor on the way.

The sooner you notice something is wrong, the better the outcome in the long run.

There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma (which develops in the upper layers of the skin) and melanoma (which develops from a birthmark).

About 85 percent of melanomas are caused by too much ultraviolet radiation – or exposure to the sun.

The number of people in the UK being diagnosed with skin cancer has reached an all-time high, with a sharp rise in the over-55s.

According to Cancer Research UK, there are 17,500 melanoma cases annually, which could increase by another 50 percent to 26,5000 annually by 2040.

The charity’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, called the increase “alarming” and urged people to be extra careful in the sun.

She added: “Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK and we know that 86 per cent of these skin cancers are preventable.”

“It’s important to exercise caution in the sun and to contact your GP if you notice any unusual changes in your skin.”

Temperatures are expected to reach 32°C in some parts of the UK this week, with much of the south meeting official heatwave criteria (when locations record at least three consecutive days when daily high temperatures are at or above local limits).

Unusually warm conditions for the time of year prompted a yellow heat warning from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

It warns that pressure on health services will increase, vulnerable people could face an increased risk of death and indoor and outdoor spaces could get “very warm”.

To stay safe in hot weather, the NHS recommends:

  • Stay away from the heat if possible
  • Stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm if you need to go outside
  • Always wear sunscreen (with an SPF of at least 30), a hat and light clothing
  • Avoid exercise or activities that make you hotter
  • Consume cold food and drinks
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks
  • Take a cool shower or apply cool water to skin or clothing
  • Keep your living space cool by closing windows during the day and opening them at night when the outside temperature has dropped

Russell Falcon

Russell Falcon is a USTimesPost U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Russell Falcon joined USTimesPost in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing

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