You may have read somewhere that moles are linked to skin cancer. While this is true, that statement alone can be misleading and alarming. Moles and skin cancer are related but they are not one and the same. If you have several moles, you shouldn’t panic or assume the worst. Rather, you should keep an eye on these unique skin features and look out for any significant changes. Let’s go over the signs you should look for when examining your moles so you can detect early signs of skin cancer should there be any.
Moles are localized clusters of melanin, the amino acid that produces skin pigmentation. This is why moles are darker (typically brown) and more noticeable and prevalent in those with fair complexions. The technical nomenclature for “moles,” broadly speaking, is “nevi.” There are various classifications of mole underneath this umbrella, distinguished by their size, shape, color, and time of appearance. No two moles are the same, and individual moles may change over time.
Moles do not necessarily suggest the presence of skin cancer. In fact, most moles are benign and stay that way throughout a person’s life. That said, having several moles (10 or more) on your body and/or moles that are irregular in shape, size, or color (atypical) can increase your chances of developing skin cancer, specifically melanoma. In other words, moles fall under the category of skin cancer risk factors, along with things like freckles, fair skin, photosensitivity, prolonged sun exposure, family history of cancer, etc. This is why it’s important to regularly check on your moles to see if they’re evolving in any way.
As mentioned above, atypical moles, or “dysplastic nevi,” refer to irregular moles. These moles may be larger than normal, not quite round, not uniformly colored, and/or lack defined edges. Like typical moles, atypical moles don’t necessitate a skin cancer diagnosis. However, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, those with 10 or more atypical moles are at 12 times the risk of developing melanoma. While you should pay attention to all of your moles, it’s especially important to keep track of irregular-looking ones.
What exactly should you and your dermatologist look for when performing a mole check up? A useful guide for checking your moles is known as the “ABCDE” signs. This mnemonic device refers to five key indicators that help identify atypical moles as well as important, potentially problematic changes your moles may undergo. In order, each letter stands for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter and Darkness, and Evolution.
Standard moles are relatively symmetrical, meaning one half is about the same shape and size as the other. If a mole is asymmetrical, it’s most likely atypical, and therefore presents a higher skin cancer risk factor. Likewise, the borders around standard moles are clearly defined. Check if your mole’s edges are blurry, strangely-shaped, and/or if it’s difficult to determine where it begins and ends, as these signs indicate an atypical mole.
Most moles, including atypical moles, include some shade of brown. However, if the mole’s color is uneven, smudged, or includes other shades like red or blue, this may be an early sign of skin cancer. Moles come in various shapes and sizes. While larger moles aren’t necessarily a problem, they’re more of a risk than smaller moles, especially if they’re growing. Pay close attention to moles that are a quarter-inch in size or larger.
Finally, if any of your moles are actively changing in any of the ways mentioned above, this can be an early sign of melanoma. In addition to checking on your moles yourself, receiving annual or bi-annual mole evaluations from a dermatologist can help you keep track of any changes.
If you have moles, you’re in good company and you probably have nothing to worry about. However, keeping an eye on your moles is a crucial step in identifying skin cancer warning signs and preventing it. Premier Dermatology Partners can help you learn more about your moles and give you proper evaluations to prevent skin cancer. To learn more about our team and all the services we provide, contact us.