What are Moles?
Moles are growths on the skin caused by a cluster of melanocytes, often appearing as brown or black. Moles usually appear during early childhood, leaving the average adult with 10-40 moles on their bodies. Moles are more common in those who have lighter skin, spend more time in the sun, or due to genetics. Most moles are nothing to be concerned about, but some can be a sign of skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.
Moles can sometimes be cancerous or precancerous, meaning they have the potential to turn into cancer. The most common type of skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, often appearing as a flesh-colored bump on areas of the skin that are highly exposed to the sun. Also quite common is squamous cell carcinoma, appearing as a bumpy, scaling patch of red skin. The type of skin cancer that causes the most concern is melanoma. Melanoma has a high survival rate if the cancerous mole is detected early.
To help you remember when a mole is dangerous, you can follow the ABCDE’s of melanoma including:
- Asymmetry – when one half of a mole does not look like the other
- Border Irregularity – a mole with a jagged or poorly defined border
- Color – a mole that does not have one uniform color throughout
- Diameter – a mole that exceeds 6mm, about the size of a pencil eraser
- Evolving – a mole that changes in size, shape, or color and does not look like the rest
If you notice any of these signs, a new mole, or one that exhibits rapid change, you should contact Seattle Skin & Laser right away for an examination.
Mole Removal & Preventing Skin Cancer
When a mole is suspected cancerous, or if a mole is bothersome to the patient, surgical removal can be performed. If a mole is suspected to be cancerous, a partial or complete biopsy will be performed and sent to the lab for testing. If the test comes back cancerous, the mole and some surrounding tissue will be removed until no more cancer is detected. If cancer has spread to surrounding tissue, your dermatologist might refer you for further treatment.
The best way to avoid skin cancer is to limit exposure to the sun, avoid tanning bed, and always use sunscreen when outside. Self-examination of moles is helpful to detect the very first signs of possible cancer lesions.