Moles are a common and typically harmless type of skin growth. In fact, more often than not, they pose a bigger threat to your aesthetics than your health, especially because they can appear on virtually any part of your body, including your face.
While it's true that most moles are benign and require no medical attention, some moles (around 7%) may be cancerous and require treatment.
But instead of asking what your friends think or comparing your moles to online images of cancerous growths, why not get a reliable diagnosis from experts with years of experience diagnosing and treating suspicious moles?
It's essential to keep an eye on your moles and watch for any changes that may indicate cancer, so our team at Sanford Dermatology makes it a priority to equip all of our patients to know exactly what to look for.
Here are four signs your mole may be cancerous.
Before we get into what it is and isn't a cancerous mole, let's review what skin cancer is. Simply put, cancer (skin or any other type) is the growth of cells — just not normal cells.
Overexposure to the sun’s harsh UV rays allows them to penetrate your skin and cause serious damage. Your skin's first response to this damage is to protect itself by sending melanin (pigment) to the damaged area. That means what you think is an awesome tan is actually your body activating its defense mechanism.
Gradually, this process mutates the DNA in your skin, so when your skin cells reproduce, they become abnormal growths that could be malignant.
Though the sun is the most common culprit of skin cell damage, you can also develop skin cancer from exposure to certain chemicals and radiation. A family history of skin cancer, previous diagnosis, fair skin, a weakened immune system, or having more than 100 moles on your body can also contribute to your risk.
It's not unusual to have around 40 moles scattered across the surface of your skin. A mole is simply a cluster of skin cells. If that reminds you of the description of skin cancer, you're right. Moles and skin cancer are both clumps of cells. The difference? Benign moles comprise healthy cells, and skin cancer contains abnormal mutated cells.
Here are a few ways to identify suspicious moles.
Benign moles are typically symmetrical, meaning they're the same shape on all sides. If your mole takes on a more abstract, asymmetrical shape, it may be a warning sign of cancer.
A non-cancerous mole has a smooth, well-defined border. If the edges of your mole are uneven, notched, scalloped, or irregular, it may be a sign of cancer.
If your mole changes color, it may indicate skin cancer. Benign moles are typically one color, usually brown, black, or flesh-toned. If your mole starts to change color or has multiple colors, come see us at Sanford Dermatology.
One of the primary characteristics of a potentially cancerous mole is change, including size. Benign moles are typically smaller than a pencil eraser, and their size and shape don’t change drastically over time. If you notice your mole transforming, you should get it checked immediately.
Because changes are the main symptom of a cancerous mole, it's important to know the original size, shape, and color of your moles. Take an inventory of your moles, noting how many you have and their locations. You might take pictures of your moles or track them with a mole monitoring app, so you (and we) have a baseline to compare it to if you ever suspect a change.
Benign moles that are an eyesore or keep getting caught on your clothing or jewelry are easy to remove in our office.
However, if we suspect a mole is malignant, we take a biopsy and examine it under a microscope. If the results show cancerous cells, we remove the mole.
We can easily remove most small moles, but larger moles may require deeper incisions and possibly stitches afterward. Excision is the best way to stop cancer progression and ensure it won't spread.
It's essential to remember that not all cancerous moles exhibit these signs. If you have any concerns about a mole on your body, it's best to get it checked out by one of our experts. Call or click to schedule a consultation at any of our three conveniently located offices serving Greater Sanford, Pittsboro, and Lillington, North Carolina.