November is Healthy Skin Awareness Month, and it’s a good time to refresh your awareness of a deadly skin cancer called melanoma and how moles on your skin can signal the onset of this disease.
Most people have at least 10 moles on their bodies. Moles in and of themselves are not a cause for worry. “Healthy” moles are typically uniform in shape and color and don’t change over the course of a lifetime. Irregular moles, on the other hand, may point to a serious condition.
For this reason, DermSurgery Associates of Houston encourages regular mole checks as part of a smart skin awareness program. You can examine your moles on your own; however, clinical skin cancer screening is a more thorough and effective way to tell if any moles need further investigation or treatment.
What do irregular moles mean?
Pigment-producing skin cells called melanocytes can group together and create what we know as moles. Sometimes they create irregular moles that, contrary to popular opinion, are not necessarily malignant. But they could be, and that’s why regular mole checks are so important.
Irregular moles indicate an inherited tendency to develop melanoma, a potentially dangerous form of skin cancer. A person could have just one or two of these atypical moles, or as many as 100. Concern heightens when there is a family history of skin cancer.
Important facts about Melanoma
While not the most common form of skin cancer, melanoma is by far the most dangerous. In 2012, 232,000 people worldwide were diagnosed with melanoma for the first time. In 2015, 3.1 million people were diagnosed with this disease and 59,800 died from it.
It’s important to understand that the term “skin cancer” can have very different meanings. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are also skin cancers, and while they’re more prevalent than melanoma, they’re easier to treat and much less deadly.
Two primary factors come into play in a person’s developing melanoma: genetic predisposition and skin damage from the UV rays of the sun. The presence of an abnormal mole is generally the first indicator of melanoma. When this happens, treatment must be initiated quickly, because melanoma can spread to other parts of the body.
Because the sun plays such a big role in causing melanoma skin cancer, all experts agree that a high-quality sunscreen with an SPF of no less than 15 be used any time a person is out in the sun for more than a few minutes at a time. Sunscreen can help to prevent melanoma, but it is not 100 percent effective in doing so.
How to spot irregular moles
There are five mole characteristics that indicate irregularity.
1. The mole has an asymmetrical shape – one side of it looks different from the other.
2. Borders of atypical moles are not clearly defined, rather they are blurred or ragged.
3. “Normal” moles are consistent in color; irregular moles may present a variety of colors such as black, brown, tan, red and white.
4. A mole that has a diameter larger than 1/4 inch in diameter could be considered atypical.
5. Irregular moles are known to enlarge in size and change shape and can be itchy or tender to the touch.
It’s not always easy to do a thorough mole check on your body, because moles can exist on any part of it, including areas that are hard to see. But regular checks are necessary because atypical moles can appear at any time. These kinds of moles are not ones you’re born with but ones that develop as you move through life.
What to do about irregular moles
Part of a healthy skin awareness programs is annual skin checks by a trained dermatologist. This is important for all of us, particularly as we grow older. If you spot an irregular mole on your body, arrange for a screening as soon as possible. Even if you can’t see any odd-looking moles, it’s always smart to have your skin screened on a regular basis.
If your dermatologist suspects a mole is cancerous or pre-cancerous, a biopsy will be performed to make an accurate diagnosis. A number of advanced skin cancer treatments are available, including Mohs surgery to remove skin cancer, and your physician can explain them all to you.
While most people don’t develop skin cancer during their lifetimes, there are many who do. And in every case, the best treatment is early treatment, which starts with screenings even before a problem exists. With November being Healthy Skin Awareness Month, now would be a good time to arrange a professional screening.
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DermSurgery Associates is a greater Houston-area dermatology practice offering cosmetic, surgical and non-invasive dermatology treatments and procedures with industry-leading physicians trained and experienced with the most current dermatology technologies and procedures. Our dermatology offices are location in the Houston Medical Center, Cypress, Pearland, Southwest Memorial, Brenham, Kingwood, The Woodlands, and Sugar Land. For more information, request a consultation online or call (713) 791-9966 to schedule an appointment with one of our board-certified Houston dermatologists today.
7515 Main, Suite 240
Houston, TX 77030