moles

What are moles?
A mole is a benign growth of cells found in the skin called melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells that produce a pigment known as melanin. This gives the skin its intrinsic color or pigmentation.

What causes a mole to form?
The exact mechanism how moles form is unknown. It is thought that the melanocytic stem cells that reside in the skin accumulate mutations and when they receive a signal from the body to produce more melanocytes, they produce a mole instead.

Who should have their moles checked by a dermatologist?
Everyone should have at least one baseline full skin examination as an adult. Cumulative sun exposure results in sun damage showing up 10 to 15 years later. This can manifest as precancers called actinic keratoses, or skin cancers.

bullet Anyone who has had a skin cancer in the past is at increased risk for getting another skin cancer. Individuals who have had melanoma have approximately a
9-fold increased risk of developing another melanoma. This risk remains present even after 20 years after the initial melanoma was diagnosed. Melanoma increases one’s risks for developing other types of cancers, such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

bullet Anyone who has a family member who has had a melanoma.

bullet Anyone who has 50 or more moles.

bullet Anyone who has been diagnosed with atypical/dysplastic nevus syndrome.

bullet Anyone with a history of a blistering sunburn. One sunburn more than doubles your risk of developing a melanoma.

bullet Anyone with blond or red hair, and/or green, blue or hazel colored eyes, and/or a tendency to freckle or sunburn easily.

The incidence of melanoma is increasing faster than that of any other cancer. Currently, the lifetime risk of developing invasive melanom is approsimately 1 in 58 for Caucasian women and 1 in 39 for Caucasian men living in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society, 2010.

How often should I have a complete skin exam?
If you have a personal or family history of skin cancer, you should have a skin exam at least once a year. If you have had a melanoma or multiple skin cancers, you should be examined more frequently. Having a nonmelanoma skin cancer such as a basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma also puts you at increased risk for developing melanoma.

How do I know if a mole is turning into a melanoma (cancer)?
Any mole that is changing in size, color, bleeding (without any history of trauma), itching (for no apparent reason), becoming asymmetric, the edges are becoming irregular or scalloped shaped should be examined by a dermatologist. All of these changes can potentially be a sign that the mole is turning into a melanoma. Melanoma is a potentially fatal skin cancer and can spread to every organ of the body. It is curable if diagnosed and surgically removed at an early stage.

What should I do if I noticed a mole changing in appearance?
You should make an appointment as soon as possible to have the mole evaluated by a dermatologist. If the changes are suspicious for a cancer (melanoma), the mole will be biopsied (surgically removed) and sent to the lab for microscopic examination. If the mole has atypical cell changes or is a melanoma, further treatment will be needed. This can involved surgical removal of the mole with a margin of normal skin included around the mole, and possibly lymph node evaluation and removal as well, depending on the level of involvement.