Moles have been made famous as beauty marks by wearers such as Marylin Monroe and Mrs. Pac-Man. Chances are you also have moles. By adulthood, the average person has 10-40 moles on her body. Most of these common skin growths are harmless and need no examination.
But moles have a darker side. In rare cases, moles can be an early sign of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Fortunately, there are clear indications that your mole might require some attention and skin mole treatment from a dermatologist. When you learn the signs, you can take action to stay healthy and cancer-free.
Moles are clusters of pigmented skin cells (melanocytes) that can grow anywhere on your body. People with light skin tend to have more moles. Most moles are less than ¼ inch in diameter, the size of a pencil eraser. They can be a variety of colors, although most moles are brown. Moles can also vary in texture, appearing as flat, raised, wrinkled, or smooth. Some moles have hairs growing out of them. Certain body changes, like hormonal fluctuations in pregnancy or adolescence, can cause moles to change size or fade away.
Although most moles are benign (not cancerous), it’s important to know the warning signs of possible melanoma. Use the ABCDE method to guide you in detecting early warning signs of melanoma. You may see one, some, or all of these symptoms in a cancerous mole.
Some other changes you should pay attention to are: changes in sensation of the mole, like tenderness, itching, or pain; the spread of pigment from the mole border to other parts of the skin; redness or swelling that extends beyond the mole; a change in the surface of the mole such as crusting, oozing, or bleeding.
The majority of moles are classified as common moles. However, some moles are called atypical moles. Most of these are benign, but they also have many of the same characteristics of cancerous moles (larger size, uneven shape and border). It is important to keep an eye on atypical moles and to have them monitored by a dermatologist.
Another cause to see a dermatologist is the appearance of a new mole. While it’s not understood what causes new moles to grow, the vast majority of melanomas come from new moles. You should also be aware of a mole that looks different from all of your other moles, called the “ugly duckling sign” by the American Cancer Society.
The American Cancer Society has identified some other risk factors for melanoma that are good to be aware of when deciding if you need to be concerned about your moles. One is having a higher number of moles than the average 10-40 a person is expected to have. You should also be aware if you have a family history of skin cancer since genetics can play a role in whether you develop melanoma. If you are caucasian, have fair skin that burns or freckles easily, light eyes, or light hair, you are at increased risk for having melanoma. Another risk factor for developing melanoma is having a weakened immune system from a disease (like HIV/AIDS) or from a medical procedure or medications for something like an organ transplant.
Knowing the signs and risk factors for a mole developing into melanoma is a critical first step. Tracking the changes of moles on your body is also helpful. One way to monitor your moles is to do a skin cancer check through making a mole map, available for download from the American Academy of Dermatology.
When you are aware that you have a mole that could be showing signs of melanoma, immediately contact Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area, where an experienced dermatologist can evaluate your mole and decide if you need further treatment, such as laser mole removal.