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Is That Mole Cause for Concern?

Moles are an extremely common type of skin growth. In fact, most people have anywhere from 10 to 40 moles on their body.  While the great majority of moles are completely harmless, sometimes a mole can turn bad, resulting in melanoma. Due to this, it is important to know the warning signs of a suspicious mole so you can seek prompt evaluation by a licensed dermatologist. 

Here at Lakeview Dermatology, experienced dermatologist, Matthew Mittelbronn, MD, wants patients to know the signs of melanoma and recommends inspecting your moles regularly as part of your general self-care routine. 

Take a moment to explore what to look out for and when to contact a dermatologist for further evaluation. 

Moles and melanoma

Simply put, moles are collections of melanocytes - the cells that make the pigment in our skin.  All skin types contain these cells as a normal part of our epidermis, with darker skin producing more of the pigment these cells make, called melanin.  When one of these cells becomes cancerous the mole begins to turn into melanoma.  Melanoma is one of the most dangerous of all cancers, therefore early detection is crucial because it greatly increases the chances of successful treatment and survival.

Moles come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and while they’re usually mostly brown, they can also be shades of red, blue, or black. Some moles are present at birth and may grow larger than moles that develop during your teen years or early adulthood. It is normal for moles to slowly enlarge in proportion with a person’s growth, but overall, moles don’t change very much.

One exception to this is when there are significant hormonal fluctuations, especially during pregnancy, when they may become larger and darker or undergo other changes. While this doesn’t always indicate a problem, it is always best to have any mole that is changing evaluated.

That’s why it’s important to get to know your existing moles and take note of any changes over time.

The ‘ABCDE’s of melanoma 

This ABCDE guide is a simple tool you can use to assess your moles for changes. If you notice any of these changes, contact Dr. Mittelbronn for a comprehensive examination. 

Asymmetry [‘A’]

When it comes to moles, uniformity matters. Most moles generally appear the same throughout. Picture your mole as a pie with a line down the middle. If one side looks significantly different than the other, then there could be cause for concern. Asymmetrical moles require further investigation. 

Border [‘B’]

Moles tend to have rather smooth even borders. A mole with irregular or jagged borders requires expert examination by a skin specialist. Check your moles for abnormal-looking borders. 

Color [‘C’]

Although mild fluctuations are common, the color of moles is generally uniform throughout. You should take notice if you have a mole with a mixture of colors or a splotchy appearance. 

Diameter [‘D’]

Change in size or diameter is one thing to look for when examining your moles. As noted, moles are allowed to grow slowly and proportionally, however any rapid growth may indicate unusual activity.  One guide to use is growth of ¼” inch or more.

Evolving [‘E’]

If moles change at all, they typically do so slowly. A mole that changes significantly or rapidly in symmetry, border, color, diameter, or shape should catch your attention. It may be time for an exam if you notice this.  

Additional risks

If you have more than 50 moles, you may have a skin type that is more prone to developing irregular moles that could lead to melanoma. As with many medical conditions and cancers, family history may also indicate a greater risk. If a close relative had melanoma, your risk climbs.

One of the biggest risks for developing melanoma is sun exposure to your moles!  While some melanomas develop from a mole located ‘where the sun doesn’t shine’, the largest proportion of melanomas are located in sun-exposed areas.  Lighter skin type and number of moles are additional risk factors that make excessive sun exposure risk even worse.

In most cases, your moles aren’t going to develop into cancer, but it’s always better to know the signs and check your moles regularly at home for suspicious changes that you may need to report to your dermatologist. Spotting a potential problem early just may save your life. 

Skin inspections with Dr. Mittelbronn are usually quick and reassuring, and if your mole needs further attention, you’re with an expert.

We’re here to answer all of your mole and skin-related questions and concerns. If you notice anything unusual or would like a skin checkup, call us at Lakeview Dermatology to schedule a consultation. Our office is located in Lake Worth, Texas. You can also send us a message here on our website.

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