07 Sep All About Moles
Whether you call them moles, brown spots, or beauty marks, these concentrated areas of pigment can be found on almost any person. Most are harmless, but everyone should schedule an annual “mole check” with Spectrum Dermatology so that any suspicious, pre-cancerous, or cancerous moles can be quickly identified and treated. You’ve probably had moles as long as you can remember, but did you know there are three primary types of moles?
Moles happen when the melanocytes in your body—which are responsible for giving skin its color—grow in groups instead of being evenly spread out. The moles you’ve had the longest are called congenital moles. These are the moles you’re born with. There is also the “common mole” (otherwise known as an acquired mole). The latter moles are harmless but appear after birth. The typical person has 10 – 40 moles on their body. If you have 50+ moles of any type, then you have a higher chance of being diagnosed with melanoma.
Finally, atypical moles—or dysplastic nevus—are any moles that look strange or suspicious. These are not necessarily cancerous or pre-cancerous moles but they have a higher chance of being cancerous compared to a normal-looking mole. Atypical moles can be considered odd for a number of reasons as dictated by the ABCDEs of moles:
- Asymmetry. A healthy mole is usually symmetrical with each half mirroring the other.
- Borders that are irregular. Moles should have a border that is clearly defined.
- Color that isn’t uniform. Healthy moles are typically one color throughout.
- Diameters larger than 6mm. If you have a mole that’s bigger than the eraser end of a pencil, it’s considered atypical.
- Evolving size, color, or shape. A mole that changes in any capacity is suspicious. However, it can be difficult for someone to tell if a mole is changing. That’s why it’s important to take photos and see your dermatologist regularly.
Again, an asymmetrical mole isn’t automatically cancerous. Rather, consider it a reminder to see your dermatologist. Every atypical mole should be checked by an expert.
Why Self-Checks Aren’t a Guarantee
It’s also important to perform self-checks on moles every month, and ideally have someone photograph and check your moles for you. Moles can happen anywhere including on the scalp and in hard to see places. If you know where your moles are and what they look like, it’s easier to tell for yourself if they’re suspicious.
Most of us get our lifetime moles during our childhood. These moles can certainly grow and change in overall color without these changes increasing the odds of cancer. Still, if they are healthy they should still be symmetrical with clearly-defined borders. Healthy moles can be flat or raised, but should be smaller than 6mm in most cases. The exact color of a mole can also vary. Brown, black, and skin-colored moles are usually healthy. If you have a red, pink, white, or blue mole, that’s a red flag. You can also have these colors mixed together, making it even tougher for a non-expert to tell if a mole is suspicious.
Keep in mind that a genuine red mole is different than a cherry angioma, which is a very common and harmless skin growth—though they can look similar. Moles that are painful, itchy, bleeding, or oozes are also suspicious for skin cancer. As you can see, there are guidelines to identifying suspicious moles but it’s impossible for anyone but a dermatologist to determine if a mole requires a biopsy.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a complete skin check should be performed every month at home. This supplements an annual skin check with your dermatologist, but it doesn’t replace it. If you’ve been exposed to sun damage without proper protection before the age of 15, you’re already at an increased risk of melanoma. A history of sunburns increases your risk of skin cancer, but you don’t have to burn in order to develop skin cancer. Sun damage is ultimately cumulative, so any time spent under UV rays—even on cloudy days—“counts” towards possible skin cancer development.
It’s important to keep up with your annual mole checks even during a pandemic. This is an essential healthcare appointment. Schedule yours today at Spectrum Dermatology by calling (480) 948-8400.