The average adult has approximately ten to forty moles on his body, and while they are not present at birth, these moles develop during childhood and adolescence. As we age and expose our skin to the sun, melanoma becomes a concern. Melanoma is the leading form of skin cancer with more than 1 million cases of skin cancer diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Melanoma can be life-threatening, which means that it’s important to know what to look for when examining your skin for irregular moles.
Who is at Risk for Melanoma?
Some people may be more at risk than others when it comes to melanoma.
- Skin Tones – Fair-skinned people are more likely to develop melanoma. If you have more olive or brown tones in your skin, you have more melanin which acts as a sun shield. The likelihood is less – but not impossible – for you to develop skin cancers such as basal and squamous cell carcinoma. But no matter your skin tone, always cover up in the sun.
- Sun Exposure – Studies have shown that the degree of sun exposure you have will influence the number of moles you may grow.
- Genetically Predisposed to Melanoma – If your mother, father, sister, or brother develops melanoma, there is a 50 percent chance that you could develop it, too.
Types of Moles
Most moles are round or oval (about the size of pencil eraser) in shape. They are consistent in color, but may vary in certain constructs. Below are the three types of moles:
- Congenital Moles – These moles, which vary in size, are present at birth. They are typically round with an even skin tone. Smooth or raised, bumpy or thick and hairy, congenital moles can develop melanoma.
- Acquired Moles – These moles grow after birth. Studies have proven that the risk of melanoma is higher in people who have over fifty acquired moles. These moles vary in size (between 3 to 5 mm) with a well-defined border.
- Atypical Moles – These moles carry the greatest risk of melanoma. They are irregular in shape and color compared to congenital or acquired moles.
Check Your Moles
Skin cancer that is detected early can be treated, but if it remains untreated, then it could be deadly.
This is why it is important to have a significant other or family member check your moles. They will need to start at your scalp and work their way down to your toes, front and back, top to bottom. You can also use a full-length mirror for those hard-to-see areas.
Doctors recommend using the ABCDE’s to determine whether your mole is melanoma.
A (Asymmetry) – Moles that are considered healthy are usually symmetrical.
B (Borders) – If the border of a mole is irregular, see a dermatologist.
C (Color) – If your mole is a varying shade of brown, tan, or black – or even red, white, or blue – visit your dermatologist. It’s important to note that Color does not look at the hue of the mole as almost-black moles can be benign.
D (Diameter) – Doctors agree that steps need to be taken if moles are larger than six millimeters across (the size of a pencil eraser). However, this is a rule of thumb. Studies have shown that some tiny moles can be life-threatening.
E (Evolution) – Uniform moles generally mean that they are healthy. However, if a mole’s appearance has recently changed, then see your dermatologist. The sooner, the better certainly applies in this case.
Examine those areas which are not exposed to the sun. Mole checks need to be performed regularly. Any change in a mole’s shape, color, or size should be pointed out to your doctor.
Prevention is always the key to healthy skin. Protect your skin from sun damage and skin cancer by limiting your sun exposure, covering up, and wearing sunscreen.
Should you have melanoma, there are some options available to you. While surgery is the best option for treating melanoma, there are noninvasive treatments that your doctor may recommend. Cryosurgery (also known as freezing), acids, and chemotherapy lotion can be applied. Larger areas containing carcinomas are sometimes treated with Aldara, a topical wart remover that stimulates the immune system to destroy potential cancer.
Keep in mind that when melanoma is diagnosed early, it can be cured. If you suspect a mole, see your dermatologist today.