Skin cancer is more easily cured when detected early. Whether squamous cell, basal cell carcinoma, or malignant melanoma, skin cancer treatment success improves when both patient and doctor watch for changes in this body organ, and that includes changes in moles.
Here’s how to protect yourself.
What Are Moles?
Also called nevi, moles are common skin growths composed of several melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells. Some appear early on in childhood, while others may appear, or even fade, in adult years. In general, most people have a lot of moles–up to 40 or 50.
Skin experts at the Cleveland Clinic state that moles generally are not dangerous, nor are they contagious. Often, people call them “beauty marks,” though some moles may spout hair.
Do Moles Change Over Time?
In general, moles do not change dramatically over time. However, with age, they may lighten, or the hormonal changes of pregnancy and menopause may darken them.
Your dermatologist will encourage you to vigilantly examine your moles carefully and frequently. Make sure to check your moles in these specific ways:
- Number of moles
When you know your moles and their patterns well, you can watch for changes that could signal skin cancer formation.
What Changes in Moles Signal Concern?
Moles that look different from most of your other moles may be a reason for concern. This difference in appearance is known as the ugly duckling sign. Also, any itching, bleeding, or oozing is abnormal and should be evaluated by your dermatologist as soon as possible.
You can self-evaluate moles at home by using this easily remembered pmnemonic:
- A Healthy moles are similar in size on the right side and on the left side. Questionable moles are oddly shaped, with one half not matching the other.
- B Healthy mole borders or margins are sharply defined and not scalloped or notched.
- C Moles should be evenly pigmented throughout their surfaces. Cancerous moles are spotted or vary in color.
- D No mole should be bigger than 6 millimeters, or the size of a pencil top eraser. If a mole grows, have it checked immediately.
- E Healthy moles change very little over many years. If a mole becomes bumpier or flatter, have it evaluated by your skin doctor.
Prevention is Key to Healthy Skin
Moles occur naturally in people of all ages and skin colors, and proactive skin care helps moles remain benign and harmless. To avoid skin cancer, particularly if you are very fair-skinned, limit your sun exposure by:
- Applying SPF 15 or higher sunscreen daily
- Covering up at the beach or other areas of intense sun exposure
- Staying in the shade between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm
- Looking at your skin carefully (especially your moles) at least once a month
- Getting a thorough skin exam with your dermatologist once a year if you are 40 or older
Premier Medical and Aesthetic Dermatology in Miami and Coral Gables, FL
At the Children’s Skin Center, Dr. Ana Duarte and her associates deliver state-of-the-art dermatology services in a family-friendly setting. Stay ahead of changes in moles and other indicators of skin cancer by arranging an exam at one of our seven convenient locations.