Properly Identifying Malignant Moles: How to Know the Difference Between Benign and Cancerous Nevi
As generally innocuous little spots of pigment on your body, moles are extremely common. On average, most people can have up to forty of these little-colored dots on their skin at any given time, though some people may have more. However, occasionally these moles sometimes turn malignant, morphing into a treacherous mass of cancerous cells on your skin. If caught early, a cancerous mole can easily be treated and removed. Knowing how to identify your moles and tell them apart from cancerous ones can certainly save your life. Keep reading to learn more about cancerous moles and how to tell if yours is benign or malignant.
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Signs of Skin Cancer in Moles
Moles can take on many different shapes and colors. While most moles are typically small and tan in color, they can come in a wide spectrum of hues.
Common Moles: You can be born with a common mole (congenital nevus), or it can gradually form over time due to sun exposure.
- Tan, pink, or brown.
- Less than 5mm (¼ inch) across.
- Often dome-shaped.
- Smooth surface.
- Even borders.
Atypical (Dysplastic) Moles: While atypical moles can turn cancerous, it’s not always guaranteed to happen. Monitor them closely for changes.
- May be multicolored, tan, or brown.
- Larger than 5mm (¼ inch) across.
- No stereotypical shape.
- Smooth, scaly, or pebbled texture.
- Possibly irregular edges.
Cancerous Moles: To identify potentially cancerous changes to your moles, you should learn your ABCDEs.
- Asymmetry: If you drew a line down the middle of the mole, would both sides match like a mirror image?
- Border: Does your mole have sharply defined borders, or are they irregular and blurred in appearance?
- Color: Is the mole multicolored, or have areas of blue, black, white, or red in it?
- Diameter: Is your mole larger than 6mm (¼ inches) across?
- Evolution: Has your mole changed in appearance in any way, or has a new mole developed?
Check your body frequently for any changes to moles. If you have any first-degree relatives with a history of skin cancer, do a full-body inspection monthly. You cannot be too wary when it comes to skin cancer. Learn more about cancerous mole symptoms here.
What if My Mole is Falling Off?
It can be quite alarming to have a mole disappear from your body, especially if you witness it falling off before your eyes.
A mole falling off isn’t generally regarded as an ominous event. However, it can occasionally be a sign of advanced, metastatic skin cancer.
Extremely rarely, in about 10-20% of melanoma cases, the immune system can be successful in attacking the cancerous cells. This is called “regression” and means your body has eradicated the disease. If regression occurs, your mole may vanish. If you do have skin cancer and your mole falls off or fades away, be aware that it does not mean your cancer is cured. It can still be lurking underneath your skin’s surface, or even attacking other organs. Do not treat a vanished mole as a cure. Making such a mistake can cost you your life.
Oftentimes, though, a mole falling off is harmless.
Most of the time, moles vanish for the following reasons:
- Injury to the site. A mole can be abraded off from clothes, or accidentally yanked off traumatically. The underlying melanocytes (pigment) is not always removed, though, and the mole may grow back.
- Evolution of the mole. As you know, changes to a mole can be a sign of skin cancer. It’s not uncommon, though, for healthy moles to fade or disappear over time. Always check with your doctor to rule out melanoma.
- Hormonal changes. Pregnancy, for instance, can cause a mole to either lighten or darken in appearance. This is fairly common and does not necessarily warrant concern.
- Your mole isn’t a mole. Skin tags, warts, and cysts may all resemble moles in appearance. Your own immune system can eliminate these with minimal fuss.
Watch your moles carefully and when in doubt, check with your dermatologist to rule out any malignancies. Click here to learn more about dangerous moles.
Possible Signs of Melanoma
In addition to knowing your ABCDEs, there are other key features to be aware of when determining if you have melanoma.
Dermatologists and physicians have developed the concept of “Ugly Duckling Syndrome” to help identify cancerous moles at a glance.
Even if you are prudent about checking regularly for any changes to your moles, even the most diligent individual could make a serious oversight.
The Ugly Duckling principle states that all the moles on a person’s body will vaguely resemble other moles. Even if they are atypical in appearance, there won’t be much deviation.
Therefore, any outliers – the “ugly ducklings” – may be skin cancer.
Some types of melanoma completely lack any pigment whatsoever. These are called “amelanotic melanoma” and get their name from their distinct lack of melanin.
This type of melanoma is harder to diagnose, leading to lethal delays in treatment. For more information about melanoma symptoms, click here.
To help facilitate accurate identification of amelanotic melanoma, look out for:
- Pink or flesh-colored areas.
- May be flat or dome-shaped.
- Can be anywhere on the body.
- Often found under fingernails.
- May have other features of ABCDE criteria.
Remember that a cancerous mole can appear literally anywhere on your body. They can grow in areas that are not exposed to sunshine, such as your buttocks or genitals or even inside your mouth. They can form on your scalp or on the soles of your feet.
Check every inch of your body vigilantly and enlist the help of a friend, family member, or significant other to inspect hard-to-reach areas.
6 Signs that the Mole on Your Skin Could Be Cancerous
The facts are grim: one person dies every hour of melanoma.
If caught early, however, the 5-year survival rate is an impressive 99%. If the cancer metastasizes before detection, it drops down to just 20%.
There are three primary types of skin cancer of which you should be aware. While most people are aware of melanoma, surprisingly, it is not the most common variety.
- Basal cell carcinoma: The most common type of skin cancer, it forms where the sun hits the skin. It’s slow-growing and rarely spreads. Basal cell carcinoma resembles a pink or flesh colored bump on the skin.
- Squamous cell carcinoma: The second most common type, this is also related to sun exposure. However, it can appear inside the mouth and even on the genitals. It can look like an ulcerated wound, scaly patch, or a red bump. If caught early, it is curable.
- Melanoma: The rarest and most deadly type of skin cancer, this is the type that can show up as a new spot on your skin or on an existing mole. Early detection is essential for survival.
Don’t become a statistic.
Keep an eye out for these six signs that your mole may be skin cancer:
- Pain, itching, and tenderness.
- Pigment spilling out onto surrounding skin.
- Changes in texture of the mole, including bleeding, oozing, and scaling.
- Any changes in color, including red, blue, white, and black.
- Redness and swelling outside perimeter of your mole.
- A new sore that does not heal.
Certain demographics are more likely to develop skin cancer.
If you fall into any of these categories and you observe any of the aforementioned six symptoms, consult your doctor promptly:
- Presence of dysplastic nevi.
- Excess of 50 normal, common moles.
- Immediate family members with history of skin cancer.
- A history of tanning or a blistering sunburn.
- A lower score on the Fitzpatrick Scale.
While Caucasian people are more likely to develop skin cancer, any racial demographic can succumb to it. Needless flippancy or carelessness cost you your life.
Skin cancer does not have to be a death sentence. If caught early, it’s highly treatable with a positive prognosis.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of skin cancer can save your life, and regular checkups are fast, easy, and painless. Don’t gamble with your health; check your skin often to avoid permanent disfiguration, disability, or even death.
You can find further details of Types of moles here.