Do you have any suspicious moles that you’ve been secretly fretting about? Are you worried that your mole might be cancerous?
Since most skin cancers start in irregular spots, it is important that you check your skin every few months. Here’s what you should be looking for to determine whether or not your moles may be cancerous.
- Normal mole—is a harmless spot that develops in childhood and later in life and can be found anywhere. Typically, normal moles are smaller than a pencil eraser, and are round and symmetrical with smooth borders and an even color.
- Dysplastic nevus—is a type of mole that looks different from a common mole. It can have a mixture of several colors, from pink to dark brown, and is usually flat with a smooth, slightly scaly, or pebbly surface, with an irregular edge that may fade into the surrounding skin.
- Actinic keratosis—is a common precancerous growth often found on your scalp, face, hands, or forearms. They are a rough, flesh-toned pink or red patch that may be itchy or scaly. Actinic keratosis should be removed because five to 10 percent of them can become cancerous.
- Basal cell carcinoma—is caused by sun damage and typically found on the face. It normally appears as a pinkish or reddish patch that may bleed or scab. This type of cancer is easy to treat if caught early.
- Squamous cell carcinoma—this type of cancer often appears on the body, legs, or hands and is curable if caught early. It appears as a thick growth that can peel and bleed and may have an irregular shaped border.
- Melanoma—this serious form of cancer can spread quickly, but is curable if caught early. Alert your doctor if you see a dark, irregularly shaped growth with an uneven reddish-brown, brown, or black coloring.
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. Since most melanocytes are in the skin, melanoma can occur on any skin surface. It can develop from a common mole or dysplastic nevus, and it can develop in an area of apparently normal skin. In addition, melanoma can also develop in the eye, the digestive tract, and other areas of the body.
Often the first signs of melanoma are 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 early features of melanoma are:
- Asymmetry—the shape of one half does not match the other half.
- Border is irregular—the edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into 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 ¼ inch wide.
- Evolving—the mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.
Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look. While many will show all of the above features, some may only show one or two of the above features.
Screening and Prevention
The only way to diagnose melanoma is to remove tissue and check it for cancer cells. Your doctor will remove all or part of the skin that looks abnormal. Usually, this procedure only takes 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.
If you want to help prevent melanoma, then you need to be sun smart. Here are some tips on how you can be sun smart:
- Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm
- Wear a T-shirt, hat, and sunglasses
- Use sunscreen with at least SPF 15 (the higher the better), with good UVA protection (the more stars the better)
- Avoid sunbeds as they are not a safe alternative to tanning outdoors (the intensity of the UV rays can be 10-15 times higher than that of the midday sun)
You may be more at risk of developing skin cancer if you have:
- Fair skin
- Lots of moles and freckles
- Red or fair hair
- Had skin cancer before
- A family history of skin cancer
Getting Your Moles Checked
If you are worried about any mole that you have, then you should schedule an appointment with Dr. Binder. The best way to ensure that you don’t have skin cancer or that you are diagnosed early enough to treat skin cancer, is to have your suspicious moles checked out and, if necessary, removed by a qualified doctor.