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Mole Check

Melanoma (skin cancer) causes 75% of the deaths due to skin cancer world wide. And it is almost completely curable when it is detected in early stages. The only way to catch melanoma early is by doing regular mole checks. These can be done by yourself or by a qualified dermatologist. Here we answer some of the common queries related to moles.

1. What is a mole?

A mole is a growth on the skin that develops when pigment cells (melanocytes) grow in clusters. Most adults have between 10 and 40 common moles. These growths are usually found above the waist on areas exposed to the sun. They are seldom found on the scalp, breast, or buttocks.

Although moles may be present at birth, they usually appear later in childhood. Most people continue to develop new moles until about age 40. In older people, common moles tend to fade away.

2. What does a mole look like?

A common mole is usually smaller than about 5 millimeters wide (about 1/4 inch, the width of a pencil eraser). It is round or oval, has a smooth surface with a distinct edge, and is often dome-shaped.

Can a mole turn into melanoma?

Yes, but a common mole turning into a melanoma is very, very rare. Although common moles are not cancerous, people who have more than 50 common moles have an increased chance of developing melanoma.

People should tell their doctor if they notice any of the following changes in a mole

  • The color changes
  • The mole gets unevenly smaller or bigger (unlike normal moles in children, which get evenly bigger)
  • The mole changes in shape, texture, or height
  • The skin on the surface becomes dry or scaly
  • The mole becomes hard or feels lumpy
  • It starts to itch
  • It bleeds or oozes

3. Should people have a doctor remove a mole to prevent it from changing into melanoma?

No. Normally, people do not need to have a dysplastic nevus or common mole removed. One reason is that very few common moles turn into melanoma . Another reason is that even removing all of the moles on the skin would not prevent the development of melanoma because melanoma can develop as a new colored area on the skin. That is why doctors usually remove only a mole that changes or a new colored area on the skin.

4. What is melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes. It is potentially dangerous because it can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body, such as the lung, liver, bone, or brain. The earlier that melanoma is detected and removed, the more likely that treatment will be successful.

5. What does melanoma look like?

Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma may also appear as a new colored area on the skin.

The “ABCDE” rule describes the features of early melanoma :

    • Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other half.
    • Border that is irregular:The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
    • Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.
    • Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than 6 millimeters wide (about 1/4 inch wide).
    • Evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.

6. How is melanoma diagnosed?

The only way to diagnose melanoma is to remove tissue and check it for cancer cells. The doctor will remove all or part of the skin that looks abnormal. Usually, this procedure takes only a few minutes and can be done in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital. The sample will be sent to a lab and a pathologist will look at the tissue under a microscope to check for melanoma.

7. What should people do if a mole changes, or they find a new mole or some other change on their skin?

People should tell their doctor if they find a new mole or a change in an existing mole.

8. What factors increase the chance of melanoma?

People with the following risk factors have an increased chance of melanoma :

    • Having a dysplastic nevus
    • Having more than 50 common moles
    • Sunlight: Sunlight is a source of UV radiation, which causes skin damage that can lead to melanoma and other skin cancers.
    • Severe, blistering sunburns: People who have had at least one severe, blistering sunburn have an increased chance of melanoma. Although people who burn easily are more likely to have had sunburns as a child, sunburns during adulthood also increase the chance of melanoma.
    • Lifetime sun exposure: The greater the total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime, the greater the chance of melanoma.
    • Tanning: Although having skin that tans well lowers the risk of sunburn, even people who tan well without sunburning increase their chance of melanoma by spending time in the sun without protection.

Sunlight can be reflected by sand, water, snow, ice, and pavement. The sun’s rays can get through clouds, windshields, windows, and light clothing.

    •  Sunlamps and tanning booths: UV radiation from artificial sources, such as sunlamps and tanning booths, can cause skin damage and melanoma. Health care providers strongly encourage people, especially young people, to avoid using sunlamps and tanning booths. The risk of skin cancer is greatly increased by using sunlamps and tanning booths before age 30.
    • Personal history: People who have had melanoma have an increased risk of developing other melanomas.
    • Family history: Melanoma sometimes runs in families. People who have two or more close relatives (mother, father, sister, brother, or child) with melanoma have an increased chance of melanoma. In rare cases, members of a family will have an inherited disorder, such as xeroderma pigmentosum, that makes the skin extremely sensitive to the sun and greatly increases the chance of melanoma.
    • Skin that burns easily: People who have fair (pale) skin that burns easily in the sun, blue or gray eyes, red or blond hair, or many freckles have an increased chance of melanoma.
    • Certain medical conditions or medicines: Medical conditions or medicines (such as some antibiotics, hormones, or antidepressants) that make skin more sensitive to the sun or that suppress the immune system increase the chance of melanoma.

9. How can people protect their skin from the sun?

The best way to prevent melanoma is to limit exposure to sunlight. Having a suntan or sunburn means that the skin has been damaged by the sun, and continued tanning or burning increases the chance of developing melanoma. To know more about the diagnosis and available treatments, consult Dr. Rasya Dixit today.

Didn't find what you were looking for? Ask Dr Dixit your question and get answers within a day.

The information provided in Dr. Dixit's answer is for educational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical advice. The information provided should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultations with a qualified health professional who may be familiar with your individual medical needs.

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