What Do Our Moles Tell Us?
Most of us have them - those dark brown, pink or skin colored spots that can be found anywhere on our body. During Melanoma Awareness Month, take some time to check your moles and get to know more about them.
Moles or nevi that are present at birth or appear during the first three months are called congenital and those that develop afterwards are called acquired. Most moles develop in the first 25 to 30 years of life.
Some people call them beauty spots, but others try to hide them or have them removed. Moles are a part of us for better or worse, and those moles may be trying to tell us something.
Dermatologists have known for years that moles are an indicator of a higher risk for melanoma or skin cancer. Having a lot of moles or having several moles with atypical features, could signal a higher risk for melanoma skin cancer. Although preliminary, two recent studies suggest that women with significant number of moles may have a higher risk of breast cancer. Dermatologists use the ABCDEs of moles to determine if they might be melanoma or signal other skin issues.
The ABCDEs of moles are:
- Asymmetry. Moles that are not symmetrical or that are uneven could signal melanoma.
- Border. An irregular or poorly defined border could be a risk factor.
- Color. Varied colors in moles could include white, black, red or blue.
- Diameter. Larger than a pencil eraser could signify a concern.
- Evolving. Some moles change over time.
Are you at risk for melanoma cancer?
- Those with 50 or more moles, large or unusual moles have a higher risk.
- Moles that have more than one color, have changed, or quickly develop could signal melanoma.
- Talk to your family. Do you have a first degree relative (immediate family) with melanoma? Those with red or blonde hair, or blue or green eyes could have a higher risk.
- Have you been diagnosed with melanoma or non- melanoma skin, or previous other type of cancer? Having other types of skin issues could mean a higher risk.
- Have you had exposure to sun or artificial tanning devices? The easiest way to reduce the risk is to use protective measures, such as sun screen, hats, umbrellas and clothing, and to avoid the sun between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
What does sunburn have to do with moles?
According to the American Academy of Dermatologists, when your skin tans or burns, it is a sign that your skin is being damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Your skin becomes red from sunburn because the skin is producing melanin in an effort to protect itself from the UV rays. This happens whether a person has light or dark skin.
A person's risk for melanoma – the most serious form of skin cancer – doubles if he or she has had five or more sunburns. Moles are one of the signs of sun damage to the skin.
Taking care of moles
If the color, size, shape, or height of a mole changes or if it starts to itch, bleed, or ooze, talk to a doctor. The doctor may recommend removing the mole. It is important to do regular self-checks to determine if moles are changing.
Melissa Taylor, NP-C, sees patients at Beebe Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery. For more information, call (302) 645-4801.
Above Image caption: This graphic from WebMD, according to the standards set by the American Academy of Dermatology. It illustrates the ABCDEs of moles.