Moles are extremely common skin growths that result from the clustering of melanocytes (pigmented cells.) The majority of moles are benign, posing no real threat to one’s health. However, some moles can become cancerous. Receiving regular mole evaluations can alert your dermatologist to any moles that indicate skin cancer. If a mole is indeed malignant, your dermatologist will have it removed to eradicate the cancer and prevent its spread.
But how do dermatologists determine whether a mole is cancerous? For starters, medical professionals follow a rule of thumb known as the ABCDEs of melanoma, five visual cues that suggest a mole could be cancerous and should be further examined or removed. This alphabetical mnemonic device also makes it easy for you to check your own moles so you can stay on top of your skin’s health.
Let’s explore these five signs that might lead your dermatologist to recommend mole removal.
1. Asymmetrical Shape
While no mole is perfectly symmetrical, most benign moles are round, resembling a circle or oval. If you were to bisect (cut in half) one of these moles, both sides would basically mirror each other. Moles that lack this symmetry might indicate irregular cellular activity, which can point to skin cancer. Upon viewing an asymmetrical mole, your dermatologist may conduct a mole biopsy (removing some tissue from the mole) to further examine it for cancer. If the results come back positive, they will recommend removing it entirely.
2. Borders are Undefined or Irregular
Harmless moles are also typically clearly defined. In other words, it’s easy to tell where the mole begins and ends. Malignant moles may have borders that are undefined and/or oddly shaped, with pigmented cells “bleeding into” the skin. Again, irregular borders don’t always indicate skin cancer, but they’re certainly a red flag.
3. Color Lacks Consistency
Moles are usually some shade of brown. Still, the exact color of a given mole is determined by a number of factors, such as the amount of clustered pigment cells, one’s skin type and skin tone, etc. However, while one mole might differ in color from another, an individual mole should retain a consistent color throughout. If a single mole is darker in some areas and lighter in others, this suggests an irregularity that your dermatologist will examine further during a mole evaluation.
4. Diameter is Too Large
Just as moles vary somewhat in shape and color, they also vary in size. Most benign moles are relatively small, usually no larger than 6 millimeters in diameter. There are exceptions, of course. Even still, if a mole is larger than 6 mm, your dermatologist will check it for cancer and potentially have it removed.
5. Evolution of Shape, Size, or Color (or new moles)
Lastly, dermatologists will take note of any changes in your moles, including the appearance of new moles. People can experience new moles throughout their lives, though most stop seeing new ones after adolescence, and some even disappear on their own. Any new moles might be benign, especially if they’re regular, but they’re still worth checking out. And if any of your existing moles have significantly changed in size, size, or color, your dermatologist might conduct further tests and recommend removal.
The ABCDEs of melanoma are always top of mind during a mole check up. Of course, these five factors aren’t the only reasons you might have a mole removed. You might simply dislike the appearance and/or placement of a benign mole and ask your dermatologist to remove it for cosmetic purposes. Also, if a mole is getting in the way of shaving or other skincare practices and causing irritation, it might be worth having it removed.
Keeping tabs on your moles is key in keeping your skin and body healthy. Most are harmless, but others can be deceptively problematic, so see your dermatologist if you have any concerns about your moles. The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners can give you more advice and resources for examining your moles and maintaining your skin’s health. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.