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Does Melanoma Always Emerge From an Atypical Mole?

May is Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month, a time to shine the spotlight on one of the most serious types of skin cancer: melanoma. More than 100,000 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society. 

A common misconception is that melanoma always develops from an existing atypical mole. However, melanoma is more complex, and knowing how to spot the early signs can lead to effective treatment. 

Melanoma overview

Melanoma is a form of cancer that begins in melanin-producing cells called melanocytes, the cells that give your skin its color. While it’s less common than other skin cancers, melanoma is more dangerous because of its ability to spread to other parts of the body if not caught early. 

Recognizing the early signs of melanoma can lead to prompt treatment and a better chance of successful treatment. Yvonne Hines, MD, founder and medical director of Hines Dermatology Associates, wants you to know the relationship between moles and melanoma.

Relationship between moles and melanoma

It’s true that melanoma can develop from existing moles. Roughly 20%-30% of melanomas are found in existing moles. This means that most moles grow as new spots rather than arising from existing moles. 

Atypical moles are larger than average and often have irregular shapes and uneven coloring. While they aren’t necessarily cancerous, they can be more likely than ordinary moles to develop into melanoma. 

Thus, having atypical moles can increase your risk of melanoma, but having these moles doesn’t mean you will develop melanoma.

Beware of these signs

Whether melanoma develops from an existing mole or appears as a new spot on the skin, there are several key signs to watch for, often remembered by the "ABCDE" mnemonic:

A, B: Asymmetry and border

Asymmetry is a common warning sign of melanoma. If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, it’s something to note. Border irregularity is another red flag. Suspicious moles often have edges that are irregular or blurred. 

C: Color

The color of the mole is also an important clue. Harmless moles are uniform in color. If the color isn’t the same all over and includes different shades such as brown, black, pink, red, white, or blue, the mole warrants further examination.

D: Diameter

Another important factor is the diameter. If the mole is larger than 6 mm across (about the size of a pencil eraser), it's important to get it checked out. In some cases, melanomas can sometimes be smaller, so it’s crucial to have any suspicious moles evaluated. 

E: Evolution

Lastly, any evolution or change in the mole's size, shape, or color should be promptly assessed by a health care professional. These changes can indicate that a mole is becoming malignant, so it requires immediate attention.

Importance of regular skin examinations

Given that melanoma can appear without any obvious warning signs and might not arise from an existing mole, regular skin checks are important. 

It’s wise to perform self-examinations once a month and have professional skin exams yearly, or more frequently if you have a history of skin cancer or atypical moles. These exams are crucial for catching melanoma in its earliest stages when it’s most treatable.

These steps are critical for skin health, especially for patients who are at an increased risk for skin cancer. Early detection saves lives. For this and all of your skin health needs, contact us at our Attleboro, Massachusetts, clinic to request an appointment with Dr. Hines today.

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