AndYou don’t have to go to the Med or Australia – you can get sunburns in Scotland, too. Which brings with it the risk of melanoma. Case in point: Ian Mack, who grew up in Glasgow, was diagnosed with skin cancer at age 40. he is now MD The Mole Clinic Which he set up to investigate and treat other potential victims.
Mac has fair skin and blond hair, so he was a natural target for sun damage. His parents took him for regular holidays on the west coast (the Scottish one). But when he was a kid no one thought of using sunblock and he got sunburns regularly. “At the time, virtually no one was aware,” Mack says.
In the Victorian era, everyone covered up if they could. No one wanted a tan for fear it might suggest that you worked in the fields. Preference was given to the porcelain look. All this changed after World War II. “Brigitt Bardot and other celebrities made a tan fashionable,” says Mack. “And even today we have a lot of influential people showing off their tans. I was once as bad as everyone else.”
Scotland isn’t in the south of France and that’s the problem, says Mack. “We don’t see much sun – and as soon as it comes out we all go crazy and take it off and overdo it.” In 2002, Mack was on vacation in Marbella when he came down with a dose of food poisoning. He was wearing his trunk when he went to the doctor, who more or less ignored the story of his dodgy shellfish and examined his thigh, where he had a large mole. “You need to see a dermatologist pronoun,” she said.
His GP referred him to a dermatologist, who duly diagnosed an aggressive malignant melanoma.
“It was my fault,” Mack says. “I let it run long enough for the cells to travel to a deeper layer.” The diagnosis prompted a complete change of perspective. He had always kept himself fit and practiced martial arts. The karate kid had never thought about his death before, “but with cancer you do”, he says. “everything changes.”
Mack was a lawyer in Glasgow with a young family when he got a call that he needed another operation, the excision of an elaborate wound. “My whole life was turned upside down,” he says. “I became obsessed with learning more about skin cancer.”
The main news for them was that it was deadly – it kills about 3,000 people each year in the UK alone – but they also found that Australia had twice the number of melanomas, but twice the number of deaths we have. “That was the hook for me: how’s that?”
He went to Brisbane to talk to skin cancer specialists and was faced with two things: skin screening clinics and dermoscopy on each high street, using an illuminated microscope to see the surface of the moles and also to examine what was underneath. Its going on.
“They were looking for cancers that were invisible to the naked eye,” says Mack.
Nothing like this happened in Britain. Australians check their skin as regularly as we do with our teeth or our eyes. And they get diagnosed quickly. The important thing about skin cancer is that it can be easily treated if caught in time. “It was simple for my way of thinking,” Mack says. “We needed skin clinics to be easily accessible and we needed dermatoscopes.” He set out to provide both.
Fortunately, Mac was covered by critical illness insurance. He took a pay-out, closed his legal practice, and in 2003 opened the first small mole clinic in London, near Oxford Circus.
He says: “I was able to find doctors and nurses who shared my passion for early diagnosis.” But he was also lucky that the summer of that year was the hottest on record. In the middle of a scuffle, the media stood up and noticed what he was doing. Soon he started appearing on BBC Ten. news on — and triggering a mole horde.
“We were booked. We had MPs, rock stars, actors and actresses all queuing up,” recalls Mack. Celebs included Carol Werderman, Denise Van Outen and Sean Pertwee. Soon they had a six-month waiting list and: “That’s when I Realized it was really something.”
Even the doctors were coming to get the test done. Mole Clinic was the first independent clinic recognized by the NHS and is the only skin cancer nurse training program in the UK. Although a trained lawyer, Mack was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine in 2005.
The Mole Clinic App puts GPs in direct contact with dermatologists. By uploading photos of potential melanoma claimants, it enables them to eliminate 75 percent of potential referrals, thus reducing wait times. The Mole Clinic isn’t free, but it’s very reasonable: £50 per mole. “That’s the cost of a night out,” Mack says. “But it could save your life.”
By the pandemic, he had five clinics, all across London, examining some 20,000 people a year, some as far away as Aberdeen. The pandemic had shut them down, and they were left high and dry without a government lifeline. “It was a worrying time,” Mack admits. “We had huge expenses and zero income.” Then cavalry in the shape of sk:n, the nation’s largest independent skincare group, rushed to the rescue. Now The Mole Clinic is financially secure and able to launch its clinics nationally – including the one just opened in Glasgow.
There is a shortage of dermatologists. “It’s a real shame,” Mack says. “It’s such a fascinating field. I wish more medical graduates would specialize in dermatology.”
Ian Mack’s skin, to my untrained eye and without using a dermatoscope, looks healthy and glowing, so that’s a good ad for business. He still doesn’t like to use sunblock if it’s not necessary. Nor is he able to completely avoid the sun. He says: “I need to get my vitamin D. I don’t overdo it. All things moderation.”
But he still gets an annual top-to-toe check-up just to be on the safe side.
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /