Moles are common. Almost everyone has a few, and some people develop hundreds. Individuals with light skin tend to have more moles, with the average ranging from 10 to 40.
Probably the most important thing to know about moles is that melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer, can develop in or near a mole. Research has shown that certain moles have a higher-than-average risk of becoming cancerous. Anyone who has a mole that has a higher-than-average risk for developing melanoma should see a dermatologist regularly, perform skin self-exams, and practice sun protection.
Performing regular skin self-exams helps people recognize the early warning signs of melanoma. Dermatologists recommend that everyone perform regular skin self-exams. When examining your moles, look for the ABCDEs of Melanoma Detection:
A stands for ASYMMETRY; one half unlike the other half.
B stands for BORDER; irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
C stands for COLOR; varied from one area to another; shades of tan, brown, and black; sometimes white, red, or blue.
D stands for DIAMETER; melanomas are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
E stands for EVOLVING; a mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
As you examine your skin, it is important to know that not all moles look alike. Even in the same individual, moles can differ in size, shape, or color. Moles can be flat or raised. The most common colors range from tan to brown, but moles can be pink, black, blue, or even skin-toned. Moles can have hair. Some moles will change slowly over time, possibly even disappearing.
Be sure to examine your entire body. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin. Moles develop on the scalp, between the fingers and toes, on the soles and palms, and even under the nails.
A dermatologist should examine any mole that stands out from the rest. This includes any spot that changes in size, shape, or color, and any lesion that bleeds, itches, or becomes painful.
If a mole seems worrisome, displays one or more of the ABCDEs, or is new and looks unusual, promptly make an appointment. If necessary a biopsy can be performed to check the mole. A biopsy, which involves removing the mole or other suspicious lesion and examining it under a microscope, is the only way to confirm that a lesion is skin cancer. Removing a mole is a simple and safe procedure, which can be performed using local anesthesia.
Routinely examining the skin for change helps to detect skin cancer early when it is most treatable. If a mole begins to change or a new mole appears, see a dermatologist. It also is wise to have an annual skin examination by a dermatologist. This is especially important for adults who have risk factors for skin cancer, such as a family history of skin cancer or for those who have had lots of sun exposure.
Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. As unprotected sun exposure is thought to increase the number of moles, reducing sun exposure is an easy way to reduce your risk for skin cancer. Here’s how to Be Sun SmartSM: