Some call them beauty marks. Others call them by their medical name, nevi. But most commonly, those dark, brown, sometimes protruding spots on your skin are known as moles.
Most people have at least a few moles, which are merely clusters of pigment cells known as melanocytes. While these skin features are quite common, knowledge about them isn’t as abundant. Those with moles might not think much of them and neglect seeking information. As it turns out, though, some moles can suggest serious health concerns and may even be life-threatening.
The information here isn’t meant to alarm you or send you running to the emergency room. Rather, it’s meant to inform you that keeping an eye on your moles is important for maintaining your overall health. Let’s go over what can make moles deadly in some cases, and when you should see a doctor or dermatologist for a mole evaluation.
Broadly speaking, no. Moles are not inherently dangerous or a sign of poor health. Indeed, most moles are little more than cosmetic anomalies that people might appreciate or resent depending on their size, shape, and location.
That said, moles should still be taken seriously, especially those that are abnormally large, oddly-shaped, and/or mixed in color. These moles are known as atypical moles (or dysplastic nevi), and they present a higher risk to one’s health than typical moles. Those with several moles (10 or more), whether irregular or not, are also at greater risk for skin-related health concerns, namely skin cancer.
Moles, especially atypical moles, are potential risk factors for the type of skin cancer known as melanoma. Moles themselves are not skin cancer. Rather, atypical mole cells can mutate into melanoma cells under certain conditions. Researchers are still trying to figure out the exact mechanism that causes this phenomenon.
Regardless, having more than 10 atypical moles can increase one’s risk of developing melanoma by a factor of 12, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. This probability is compounded when combined with other skin cancer risk factors, such as prolonged exposure to sunlight (UV rays), having fair skin, and a family history of skin cancer.
If you have several moles, atypical or otherwise, it’s important to see your dermatologist for routine mole evaluations. You may also schedule a mole check up with your doctor if you’re suddenly concerned with the appearance of one or more of your moles. During these assessments, your medical professional will examine your moles for any changes or signs of concern, using the ABCDE rubric of mole evaluation: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter and Darkness, and Evolution.
Should your moles appear differently than before and/or misshapen, blurry around the edges, and abnormally large or dark, your doctor may perform a mole biopsy to remove the section of skin to test for melanoma. After a pathologist analyzes the sample, your doctor will be able to deliver a diagnosis. If you are diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will then conduct further tests to determine the thickness and spread of the cancer so proper treatment can be prescribed.
Of course, you should regularly check your own moles for the ABCDE signs above as well. This way, you can keep tabs on your skin’s health in between evaluations.
Moles are not deadly on their own, but they can point to the deadly disease known as melanoma. Still, even if you’re diagnosed with melanoma, catching a malignant mole early enough will greatly increase your chances of full recovery. This is why checking on those beauty marks is so important.
The professionals at Premier Dermatology Partners can evaluate your moles, teach you more about them, and remove them via surgical excision if necessary. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.