First things first: why do we itch at all?
While scientists and researchers still cannot clearly explain the evolutionary reason for itching (also known as pruritus), we do know that itching is typically a sign that something has aggravated or damaged an area of our skin.
Itching can be helpful in making us aware of harmful substances or agents that could be on our skin, such as mosquitos or poisonous plants. On an anatomical level, an itch is a result of the stimulation of nerve endings (also known as pruriceptors).
This stimulation is often caused by inflammation, dryness or injury to the skin, mucous membranes or conjunctiva of the eye. An itch can also be caused by bodily diseases such as melanoma or liver disease.
Reasons for an itchy mole and warning signs
As we mentioned above, an itchy mole isn’t always a sign of skin cancer. Itchy moles can be a result of factors such as new laundry detergents or beauty products, exposure to chemicals, a poorly placed bra strap or other external chemical or physical irritants.
Sometimes, however, they can be caused by cancer cells irritating nerve endings. The key to knowing the difference is to look for other possible symptoms of skin cancer that will often present themselves alongside the itching.
These symptoms can be the following:
- The emergence of new moles
- An increase in the size of the mol
- Irregular borders on the mol
- A change in color from brown to black
- A mole with an irregular, rough or ulcerated surface
- A mole that tends to bleed easily
- A spot that looks different from others
- Any ulcer or broken down part of the skin that does not heal within 4 weeks
- A spot that becomes raised overtime
Did the itch come on suddenly?
If a mole suddenly becomes itchy and goes away over time, then it is probably a sign that it was caused by minor trauma, not by skin cancer. Examine the mole and surrounding skin to see if the itching is caused by any other factor, such as a rash or small cut.
If not, or if you are still suspicious, ask your doctor to check your mole as soon as possible.
Other skin cancers that itch
According to studies, more than one-third of skin cancer lesions are itchy with fewer than 30 percent described as painful. Some patients report their lesions as both painful and itchy. If multiple skin spots are itchy or painful and look suspicious, this can be a sign of non-melanoma skin cancer. In this case, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
There are three common types of skin cancer: melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. The types of skin cancer most associated with itching are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Melanoma lesions are least likely to be associated with any kind of painfulness or itchiness. Even though melanomas are less likely to itch than squamous or basal cell carcinomas, it is still a possible symptom and melanoma is far more deadly than non-melanoma skin cancers if left untreated. That’s why it’s always important to be alert and watch for any changes on your skin. Don’t be alarmed by the first itching, but lookout for the other symptoms mentioned above. Contact your doctor if you still have cause for suspicion, especially if the itch doesn’t go away over time.