Moles are a collection of cells that produce small, colored spots on the skin. Moles are generally caused by exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, but many people are born with moles. According to the National Cancer Institute, almost all Americans, around 327 million, have at least one mole. Moles can appear in various colors, sizes, shapes, and textures. Most moles are not a cause for concern, but some moles can develop into melanomas, a serious skin cancer. Keep reading to find out when you should worry about a mole and get it checked by your primary care provider or a dermatologist!
What Do Normal Moles Look Like?
Most moles that are normal are round or oval-shaped with a smooth edge and consistent coloring throughout. They can be flat or raised and smooth or rough. It is also normal for babies to be born with moles and for new ones to appear, especially as a child, teenager, or young adult. With time, some may fade or disappear. Color can range from medium to dark brown but can also appear to be a light tan or black depending on skin tone.
Most moles are nothing to worry about unless they change in shape, size, or color. It is important to do regular self-exams, particularly for those who are at high risk for melanomas, in order to prevent the development of serious skin cancers.
Who should be checking their moles?
Anyone with a mole should check their skin, at least every three months. Some people are more prone to develop melanoma than others. Here are some characteristics of individuals who may be at a higher risk for developing melanoma:
- Blonde or red hair.
- Blue or green eyes.
- Fair skin or skin that burns easily.
- A history of tanning bed usage.
- A personal history of skin cancer.
- A close family history of melanoma.
- Frequent sunburns.
- Sun exposure at work or play.
ABCDEs of Moles
Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer and is on the rise. According to the CDC, there were over 80,000 new cases of melanoma in 2018. Luckily, most skin cancers are highly treatable, if they are caught early. The American Academy of Dermatology created the following acronym for the warning signs that you should be looking for in your self-examination:
- Asymmetry: Do you have any moles in which one half doesn’t match the other half? Asymmetrical moles are a red flag for melanoma.
- Border: Is a mole’s border fuzzy? Does it have a small notch or protrusion? Is there any color bleeding on the edges? Poorly defined, blurred edges are also red flags.
- Color: Does any mole have more than two shades of brown? Does it contain any shade of blue, gray, red, or white? Color changes or abnormal colors are a warning sign of skin cancer.
- Diameter: Is the mole bigger than six millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser? Large size can also be a cause for concern.
- Evolution: Has any mole changed in shape, size, or color recently? A mole that is changing is the number one sign of melanoma.
Melanoma means “mutation of cells”. Melanomas develop when cell mutation grows out of control. Most melanomas grow very slowly, so the evolution and change of a mole is the biggest red flag. If you notice any changes to any of your moles or if you notice any new moles, see your primary care provider or dermatologist immediately!
Safety and Prevention
There are several ways you can protect your skin from developing skin cancers. Try to avoid spending time outside between the hours of 11:00 am and 3:00 pm. This is when the sun is at its brightest and UV rays are most intense and damaging. Additionally, make sure to apply sunscreen liberally and every day before going outdoors, even when it is cloudy. Most UV rays can still penetrate through the clouds so it is important to keep yourself protected even on cloudy days. Wear long sleeves and long pants when spending time in the sun. Finally, avoid using tanning beds. Tanning beds use intense UV radiation to mimic the radiation of the sun. This kind of exposure to UV radiation can damage the skin.
Start using these tips today and make sure to perform your regular self skin exams!
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