Most people have anywhere from 10 to 40 moles, some of which change or disappear over time. The majority of moles are harmless, rarely developing into cancer.
Yvonne Hines, MD, and the team at Hines Dermatology Associates in Attleboro, Massachusetts, want patients to know that monitoring moles and other patches of skin lesions is a critical step in detecting skin cancer, particularly malignant melanoma. Knowing what to look for means you can take action sooner.
Melanoma often develops as a change in an existing mole or a new skin growth. It’s most commonly found on sun-exposed skin, such as your face, scalp, arms, back, or calves. Melanoma can, however, also be found in areas that aren’t exposed to the sun.
What’s the deal with moles?
Moles are dark pigmented spots on the skin that are made up of cells that have grown in clusters, and they can appear anywhere. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for producing melanin, the pigment that gives skin its color.
How do moles form?
Moles can form as a result of sun exposure, but they’re also inherited. Because their skin contains less melanin, fair-skinned people tend to have more moles.
Most people develop more moles on their skin as they age and accumulate exposure to the sun, and these moles are usually harmless. However, it’s important to perform regular skin checks to see if your moles have changed.
ABCDEs of melanoma
There are five factors to consider when examining moles. The ABCDE method helps people detect suspicious moles so they can alert their dermatologist. Here’s how to tell if a mole is suspicious:
Melanoma moles are frequently asymmetrical, which means the shape isn’t uniform. Consider it suspicious if you draw an imaginary line down the center of a mole and each side looks different. Noncancerous moles are typically uniform in shape.
Moles that suggest melanoma frequently have poorly defined or irregular borders. Consider edges that are jagged, blurred, or notched to be suspicious. Noncancerous moles, on the other hand, typically have smooth, well-defined borders.
Melanoma lesions are frequently multicolored or shaded, while harmless moles are usually one color. Moles are also brownish in color, whereas melanomas can be very dark brown or even black.
Melanoma growths are typically larger than 6 millimeters, which is about the diameter of a pencil. It’s wise to have your dermatologist check out any large moles, especially if they start growing.
Melanoma, unlike most harmless moles, frequently changes characteristics such as size, shape, or color over time. Harmless moles tend to stay the same over time. If you spot an evolving mole that is changing in some way, alert your dermatologist.
Checking less common places
While we all know that moles can grow anywhere, we may not think to look for them everywhere. Melanomas can grow in unusual places, making it important to check for moles in less common places also, especially if you have a personal or family history or melanoma.
For example, melanomas on the feet are frequently overlooked or detected too late. Be sure to monitor moles on the soles of your feet and between your toes.
Acral lentiginous melanoma frequently appears as a narrow, dark streak under the nails or toenails. It typically appears on the thumb or big toe, but it can appear on any nail.
This is more common in people with dark skin, but it can happen to anyone. It can also appear as a dark spot or patch on the palms of the hands.
Early melanoma detection gives you the best chance of beating it. Dr. Hines is your best source for monitoring your moles and detecting suspicious changes. If you’re concerned about your moles, schedule a visit with Dr. Hines by calling or booking an appointment online.