First of all, what is a mole?
A mole or nevus is a dark spot on our skin comprised of skin cells that have grown in a group rather than individually. These cells are called melanocytes and are responsible for producing melanin, the pigment (color) in our skin.
Moles appear on our skin from sun exposure (ultraviolet radiation), or we are born with them. Although the number of moles varies from person to person, fair-skinned people generally have more moles due to lower amounts of melanin in their skin. The average number of moles for adults is between 10 and 40. Moles can even come and go with hormonal changes such as pregnancy or puberty.
Most people develop more moles on their skin naturally with age and sun exposure, and usually, these moles are harmless. However, we need to conduct regular skin checks (recommended monthly, especially if there is a family history of skin cancer, or at least every three months) to check whether anything has changed.
Signs of a healthy mole
Moles that are considered safe, or not at risk for cancer, generally have a few standard features, such as:
- neat edges
- smooth or dome-shaped
- size of around ¼ inch (6 mm) in diameter
- same shape, size or color over time
It is important to check your skin regularly and keep a photo archive of your moles so that you can recognize any changes over time. Understanding potential risks in time plays an essential role in the early detection of skin cancer.
Warning signs of skin cancer moles
It is not uncommon for a mole to change gradually over time. Some moles may become darker or flatten as you age. However, you should take note if a mole changes rapidly. Quick changes can be a sign that something isn’t right. You should also keep an eye on moles that appear during adulthood as they are more likely to pose a risk.
Atypical moles, also known as dysplastic nevi, tend to be larger than common moles, have irregular edges, and be uneven in color. An atypical mole isn’t always a cancerous or pre-cancerous mole, but if you have any, you are advised to have them checked by your doctor to exclude any risks.
Look for these warning signs of skin cancer moles:
- A change in size (getting larger)
- A change in shape (especially with irregular edges)
- A change in color (especially getting darker or exhibiting multiple shades)
- A loss of symmetry (common moles will be perfectly round or oval and are usually symmetrical)
- Itchiness, pain or bleeding (maybe even forming a scab)
- Exhibiting three different shades of brown or black
- A change in elevation (thickening or raising of a flat mole)
If you notice any of these symptoms, contact a doctor for a skin check.
View an overview of skin cancer images
The ABCDE checklist:
Dermatologists identify melanoma symptoms using the ABCDE method. This method shows you which signs to look out for when examining suspicious moles, spots or growths on your skin.
- Asymmetrical – Melanomas are distinctly asymmetrical
- Border – melanomas have uneven borders
- Colours – melanomas will contain at least two distinct colours
- Diameter – melanomas are bigger than ¼ inch across
- Enlargement – melanomas grow in size over time
The evolution of your mole(s) has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
Read more: ABCDE Melanoma self check
I think a mole may be cancerous, now what?
If you have a concern about a mole, you are advised to visit a dermatologist. A doctor will look at the mole more closely, and if they think it exhibits cancerous symptoms, they may remove the mole entirely or take a sample of it to examine further. The doctor may also use a device called a dermatoscope, which magnifies and illuminates the skin to provide a more detailed image of the mole and its structure. If a mole is cancerous, then it is removed together with a small part of the surrounding skin through a relatively simple surgery conducted with a local anesthetic.
If left untreated, a suspicious mole could develop into melanoma, the rarest and most aggressive form of skin cancer. When caught early, melanoma is highly treatable, but if left to spread to other parts of the body it can be fatal. Learn more about skin cancer symptoms.
Peace of mind
SkinVision is a health service that helps you detect skin cancer in time. By using its smart camera, SkinVision scans your moles for signs of skin cancer and gives you instant results. Stay on top of your skin health and start checking your skin today.