Pharmacist Nik Shah is one of the first in the country to start offering a major new service which could help tackle skin cancer.

Now the fifth most common cancer in the UK, in 2012 more than 2,000 people died from malignant melanomas according to statistics from Cancer Research UK.

And with more of us choosing to sit under sunbeds to top up our tan or head off abroad for sunshine breaks, it ismore important than ever to keep an eye on changes in anymoles we may have.

For years the course of action has been to head to the GP for either reassurance or a referral to the hospital for tests.

But in June Nick Shah, who owns and runs West Bergholt Pharmacy near Colchester, became one of only 25 taking part in a major pilot of a piece of technology that can checkmoles and return results within two weeks. Kalsons Chemist in Hobleythick Lane, Westcliff, and Hassengate Pharmacy, Stanford-le-Hope are also taking part.

The scanner takes a picture of the mole which is then sent to a ScreenCancer UK Dermatology specialist who reviews it and contacts the patient.

Nik, who has owned the pharmacy for the past four years, says the specialist will either deliver the news that the mole is not harmful or informthe patient they need to go to their GP.

“But theywill be armed with the information the picture has given them so it will save a lot of time.”

The pilot scheme is being run by Alphega Pharmacy, in conjunction with ScreenCancer UK.

Alphega Pharmacies is a group set up as a support network of independent pharmacies who pay amembership in order to get support in all aspects of their business from new services to advice on promoting themselves.

It currently supports around 6,000 pharmacies from across eight countries.

Neil Scobie, pharmacist consultant for Alphega pharmacies, says people do not always realise just what a pharmacist can do for them and that part of their working remit is to try to re-educate people.

“I think people are programmed to think that if they are ill, they go toaGP, but there is an enormous amount of advice and services their local pharmacist can give them. And this mole screening is a very good example of that.”

Pharmacies were offered the chance to be involved in the trial scheme and Alphega then chose 25 acrossawide area covering most of East Anglia.

The screening, which takes a matter of minutes, involves five pictures being taken of the mole using a SIAscope which is an imaging device which emits light that can travel 2mmbelow the surface of the skin.

One scan provides multi-images that show the depth and shape of the mole.

The service costs £45 for the checking of twomoles and then £15 for each subsequent mole.

“You get a full report from the dermatologist who contacts you direct,” says Nik.

Soufiyan Shemisa, head of commercial development at Alphega Pharmacy, says results are on average being returned in three to four days.

He says the system has come from Denmarkwhere, because of their paler colouring, there was a real need for it.

Because of the mobility of it, the only places it cannot reach are the hard to access places such as eyelids.

“It is critical to get information back as soon as possible, particularly where they are worried in the first place,”

Soufiyan explains.

He says they hope it could help the NHS in helping to reduce unnecessary referrals if there are patients who have already had results from a private screening that have picked up irregularities.

“It means patients will already have that vital information that irregularities have been detected, before they go to doctor,” adds Neil.

The success and take-up of the scanning service is to be reviewed over the next 12 months.

Neil adds: “It will obviously be more successful in some areas than others sowe need to make sure everyone knows the service is there and to encourage people to try it out.

“It is a growing condition and people are starting to think more and more about skin health, so it is about getting the message out that this service is here.”

 Contact West Bergholt Pharmacy inChapel Road if you would like tomake an appointment.




I WILL admit I have never particularly been worried about my moles and before I had one photographed and tested, I wasn’t really sure when a mole was actually a freckle.

But it turns out the things I thought were large freckles are actuallymoles.

And as I do like to try and get a tan when I am on holiday, I need to be checking them.

Since my mole has not given me any cause for concern, in that it has not changed shape or started to bleed of late, I actually approached the test with interest and no real concern.

I expected to have to sit in something like a dentist chair and there would be a large contraption to take the photograph so it was a surprise it is actually a hand-held monitor.

I gave Nik some personal details so he could log me on the system, took part in a questionnaire about my skin type and sunbathing habits and then cleaned the area over the mole on my upper armwith a sanitary wipe and put the scanner over it.

Within about ten seconds an image appeared on the screen showing five different levels of the skin beneath my arm.

Nik told me that almost immediately the image will have been sent to the dermatologist and then I put on my coat and went back to the office.

As simple as that.

Within a couple of weeks I had been texted a link to an online report which clearly stated my mole was benign and did not warrant concern – but still reminded me to keep checking them and outlined the way I could do this.

Personally, I think it is probably worth the £45, and saving of valuable time, to get such a quick response.



The difference between moles and freckles and how to check them.

  • Freckles are small usually pale brown areas of skin, which are often temporary and are usually linked to sun exposure  
  • Moles are small coloured spots on the skin made up of cells called melanocytes, which produce the colour, pigment, in your skin. They are long-lasting and are not directly linked to sun exposure, but excess sun exposure will increase your risk of skin cancer and can make a mole turn malignant.
  • Moles can be flat, raised, smooth or rough and may have hair growing from them
  • They are usually brownish in colour and are circular or oval with a smooth edge.
  • Most moles are completely harmless but If you notice any changes to your moles you should seek advice.
  •  Things to look for: Uneven colouring, uneven or ragged edges, bleeding, itching, enlargement.
  •  Anyone concerned about a new mole or change in an existing mole use this easy to remember checklist: A – Asymmetry: Irregular shape – the two halves should be symmetrical.

B – Borders: Unclear, irregular or ragged boundaries against normal skin.

C – Colour: Changes in colour, especially if it is black or blue or uneven.

D – Diameter: More than 5-6mm in diameter and changing in size.

E – Evolving: Change in shape, size, and colour, itching or bleeding of an existing mole or if a new mole/spot appears.