Some people rock their moles and embrace the skin growths as part of their persona, while others consider them an aesthetic flaw. Despite your opinion about their attractiveness, moles can pose a serious health risk.
Not all moles are cause for concern. In fact, most people sport about 10-40 moles on their bodies and never have a problem. They can be present at birth or pop up as you age. Some stay small, and some grow gradually. Rapid change and specific characteristics help you spot potentially dangerous moles.
At Sanford Dermatology in Sanford, Pittsboro, and Lillington, North Carolina, our team of experts specializes in spotting suspicious moles and treating them before they harm your health. We encourage all our patients to inspect their moles regularly, checking for signs of concern using the ABCDE method.
Here’s how to use this technique and a brief primer on why it matters.
The link between moles and skin cancer
Your skin cells constantly renew themselves and replace dead cells with fresh ones. Ideally, the process happens at an even rate, so your new skin stays smooth and level. However, your genetic makeup and sun exposure can alter the process and cause skin cells to grow abnormally, piling on top of one another.
This explains the existence of moles — clumps of overgrown skin cells.
However, if something has damaged your skin cells, such as the sun’s ultraviolet rays, your DNA mutates. In this case, the mole that grows in that spot contains abnormal cells that can develop into skin cancer.
Although UV rays are the most common culprit, radiation and chemical exposure can damage your skin cells, too. Cancerous moles tend to run in families and occur more frequently in people with compromised immune systems.
Using the alphabet to spot a suspicious mole
The difference between noncancerous and cancerous moles is the state of the cells within — benign moles comprise healthy cells, and malignant moles comprise damaged cells.
So, how do you spot a cancerous mole? You can’t. Only specialized tests and experienced physicians like those on our staff here at Sanford Dermatology can do that. But you can detect the signs that a mole might be cancerous using the alphabet.
Ask yourself the following questions. Is your mole:
- Asymmetrical, where one side looks different than the other?
- Bordered oddly, meaning the edges are rough, jagged, or scalloped?
- Colored differently than your other moles (black or marbled)?
- Diametrically large, bigger than a pea or the diameter of a pencil eraser?
- Evolving quickly?
None of these signs on their own constitute cause for panic, but they do warrant a call to our office to set up an exam. We can let you know if your moles look normal or need a further look.
Moles that change quickly need to be checked out as soon as possible, but you won’t notice the evolution if you’re unfamiliar with their early characteristics. To help you keep track, download one of several mole-mapping apps to record their shapes and sizes for easy comparison.
If we determine your mole needs next-level examination, we take a biopsy to view the cells under a microscope. To do this, we numb the mole and shave off a portion here in our office. Often, removing the mole is all it takes to stop the spread of abnormal cells, but in some cases, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be necessary.
Call us or book an appointment online to find out more about moles, skin cancer, and early detection.