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DoorBet Miller|Updated: April 12, 2023 4:09 PM EST
It is the largest organ in the body. It protects us from toxins and pollutants. It protects us from all kinds of damage and dangers. It literally holds us together. Still, it's easy to take the body's unsung hero for granted.
It is your skin, the supple fortress that envelops and protects you from the outside world. But it is also more than that. Your skin is the map of your life and often a key index of your health. From scars and stretch marks (yes, they happen to all of us) to freckles and age spots (yes, they happen too), your skin defines the trajectory of your life.
And if you look closely, you'll probably notice that your skin changes shape quite a bit and goes through a lot of changes over the years. One of the most common of these changes is the appearance - and disappearance - of skin blemishes. Often these changes are completely normal and completely benign. But sometimes the appearance of new moles or a change in the appearance of an existing mole can indicate something more serious, including skin cancer. So what are the most common types of moles and how do you know when to worry?
Acquired moles refer to any mole that develops after birth. These are the most common types of moles, or nevi (plural of "nevus"), and are usually harmless. TheCleveland clinicnotes that most people have anywhere from 10 to 40 skin moles. These often develop before age 30 and can range in color from pink to light brown to dark brown or black. They can be flat or raised and they can have hair. Often moles will change slightly over time, often lighter and more raised. Some will disappear.
However, if the mole is larger than the tip of a pencil eraser, has irregular borders or colors, or if it itches, bleeds, oozes, or hurts, it should be checked by a doctor. Similarly, if you notice significant changes in a mole, or if you are over 30 and you discover a new growth, it is wise to have it checked (according to theSkin Cancer Foundation).
also theMayo clinicinsists that if you have an unusually high number of moles (i.e. more than 50 moles) you are at greater risk for skin cancer and you want to be especially aware of skin protection and monitoring.
While few things are softer or more perfect than a baby's skin, it's not that uncommon for babies to be born with a skin blemish or two. These congenital moles, also called congenital nevi, are usually harmless. Some congenital nevi fade and even disappear over time. However, some nevi "grow in proportion to the child's growth," according to theChildren's Hospital of Philadelphia, putting the little one at risk of physical or psychological consequences.
For example, children with large congenital nevi may feel self-conscious, especially if the growth is in a highly exposed area. They may also experience discomfort or loss of function if the mole is raised, which can cause it to become irritated or inflamed. There is also evidence that the greater the growth, or the greater the number of congenital nevi, the greater the child's risk of developing melanoma.
Atypical or dysplastic moles
Atypical or "dysplastic" moles are the ones that need special attention because of their size and shape. These moles are usually relatively large (i.e. larger than an eraser), have an irregular shape, and vary in color. They are also often congenital and hereditary, so you may have been born with these atypical moles, and/or you may have close relatives with a history of benign growths.
'Typical' moles are generally uniform in shape - often round - and their color is also largely uniform, ranging from light brown to amber to a darker shade of chocolate. Atypical moles, on the other hand, often show significant color variations, often appearing darker towards the center and fading towards the edges. The edges are also rather asymmetrical.
Atypical moles should be evaluated and monitored, especially if they appear suddenly or if they change in appearance. This is because, according to theCancer Treatment Centers of AmericaWhile it is not common for dysplastic nevi to become malignant, it can happen. If you have more than five atypical moles, your risk of developing melanoma is estimated to be 10 times that of the general population (perthe National Cancer Institute). And that makes vigilance, but not panic, the order of the day.
Another common type of birthmark can be significantly more difficult to identify correctly. Called Spitz nevus, they're usually harmless, but let's face it, they can be pretty scary. That's because Spitz nevi often closely resemble melanoma.
In fact, they often resemble melanoma so much that even your dermatologist can't tell them apart without a biopsy. According toMedical News Today, Spitz nevi usually develop before the age of 35,and they can ooze or bleed, which is why they can be so easily mistaken for malignant skin cancer. Unlike most typical moles, Spitz nevi are usually, but not always, pink and "domed".
Although Spitz nevi are quite rare and do not cause cancer, it is important to get them evaluated quickly by a dermatologist. Their resemblance to melanoma in size, shape, color and behavior (i.e. large, irregular and bleeding or oozing) means they are not something you want to play with. Much better to be safe than sorry!
Pigment spots and age spots
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Of course, nevi are by no means the only types of changes you'll discover on your skin over time. Other localized changes are quite common and in most cases are not cause for concern. But as with any deviation from your usual "norm", they can tolerate watching.
Hyperpigmentation, or localized dark spots on the skin, happens to all of us. They are usually caused by sun exposure, but are also often just a normal aspect of aging, according toOregon Health & Science University.That means that freckles and "age spots" in themselves are nothing to worry about. But they should serve as a warning that you may not be as conscientious about sun protection as you should be. After all, there is no such thing as "good" sun damage. When your skin reacts to sun exposure, whether by freckles, tanning, or burning, it means damage has occurred. Yes, just like the unicorn, a "good" color simply does not exist.
Fair-skinned people are more likely to get freckles and age spots, especially if they've spent a lot of time unprotected in the sun. And both their light complexion and their overexposure to the sun put them at an increased risk of skin cancer (perCancer Research UK). So if you notice that your skin looks a little more mottled than usual, it's a good idea to up your sun protection game, including incorporating sun protection clothing and makeup into your wardrobe staple, no matter the season.
Know the warning signs
As scary as the thought of melanoma may be, you are certainly not powerless against it. Being a good skin steward is your most important weapon in the fight against skin cancer. This means making sure you are alert and informed.
Knowing what to look for when it comes to early warning signs of skin cancer can help you spot—and address—potential problems early before they can progress to something serious. As reported by theAmerican Cancer Society,the five-year "relative survival rate" for people with "localised" melanoma (i.e., melanoma that has not yet spread to other parts of the body) is about 99%. However, once the malignancy begins to spread and become a "regional" or "distant" growth, survival rates drop to 71% and 32%, respectively.
That's why it's so important that you know the warning signs and that you make skin self-examination a routine part of your health regimen, in addition to your monthlybreast self-examinationor your annual check-up and mammogram, and other preventive examinations.
When your moles hurt, itch, crust, ooze, or bleed
One of the first and most important warning signs to look out for is if you have a mole that crusts, itches, hurts, oozes, or bleeds. Typical nevi, those moles that are common and benign, should be virtually unnoticeable. They may become more elevated over time, but they also generally look lighter and become less noticeable. This is certainly not the case with malignancies.
If a pre-existing mole begins to change and suddenly becomes inflamed, painful, itchy, bloody or irritated, you should see a doctor immediately, according to thehealth service. Likewise, if a new mole develops, especially if it shows any of these worrisome symptoms, schedule an examination immediately. Since these symptoms are common with melanoma, it is wise to err on the side of caution and resolve any potential problem quickly.
When you develop new moles
As we have seen, it is very common for new moles to appear over time or for freckles and sun spots to appear, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun. However, most acquired moles are formed in childhood. As noted earlier, acquired moles generally do not develop after age 30. Therefore, if you are over the age of 30 and you notice any new growth, the safest course of action is to get it evaluated. Because most acquired moles develop in childhood, the Skin Cancer Foundation advises any adult who develops a new mole to see a dermatologist.
Likewise, if the new growth is larger than a pencil eraser, has irregular edges, is varied in color, or if it bleeds, oozes, crusts, itches, or hurts, it should be examined by a doctor, regardless of your age. TheAmerican Academy of Dermatologyrecommends that patients use the "ABCDEs of melanoma" when monitoring new and existing skin growths: A for asymmetry, B for border, C for color, D for diameter, and E for evolve. If a mole looks alarming from any of these five perspectives, it's time to get it checked.
Know your body
As important as it is to stay alert to relevant changes in your skin, you may not always recognize a red flag when you see it. Protecting against skin cancer means knowing your skin. And that means it might not be enough just to look at itSkin Cancer Foundationnotes that the more moles you have, or if you have moles that are larger in circumference than the eraser on a pencil, the more vulnerable you are to skin cancer — so you'll want to be vigilant about every mole on your body.
If you want to do things right, you need files. Examine every inch of your skin and take pictures and notes. And don't forget to check those often overlooked areas like your ears, your scalp, the backs of your legs, and even the soles of your feet. Any part of the body can develop skin cancer, whether exposed to the sun or not.
According to theAmerican Cancer Society,you should take one of these self-exams regularly - ideally at least once a month. Use the previous month's notes and photos as a basis for comparison. And remember, you probably can't see every area well, even with a mirror or camera, so ask your partner to be your eyes for a while. And then return the favor - it can be a great way for partners to show each other a little love!
Know your history
If you have skin, you can get skin cancer. But that doesn't mean everyone is equally at risk. Complexion, of course, plays an important role, as we have seen. If you have light skin, you are more vulnerable. Lifestyle also plays a key role. If you spend a lot of time in the sun unprotected, you are likely to accumulate sun damage that can develop into skin cancer.
But family history also plays an important role. If you have multiple first- or second-degree relatives (i.e., children, parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins) with melanoma, your risk of developing the disease may be up to 70 times greater than that of the general population. population, said theAIM at the Melanoma Foundation.
Similarly, if you've had a history of skin cancer, either benign or malignant, you're at risk of developing more in the future, per Cancer Research UK. This is why anyone with a personal or family history of skin cancer should be especially vigilant about sun protection, regular dermatological exams, and monitoring their own skin with monthly self-checks.
Be a good skin steward
As with any health condition, there are some risk factors that you simply cannot control. You can't do anything about your family history or turn back time and reduce your sun exposure. What you can do is be a good skin steward today and in the future. You can create a lifestyle that protects the precious shell that protects you.
Check your skin every month with thorough self-checks and visit a dermatologist regularly, at least once a year, when everything is in order and immediately when relevant changes occur. Above all, being a good skin steward means doing everything you can to keep your body healthy and strong. This includes protection from sun damage throughwear sunscreen every day, even in winteror if it is cloudy outside. This is vital even if you are dark skinned or a person of color.
The CDCrecommends that people limit their sun exposure by avoiding tanning both indoors and outdoors and by staying out of the sun when "the UV index is 3 or higher." It's also important tochoose the best sunscreen for your skin, and apply it liberally throughout the day, even if you're just going about your daily routine, as even short periods of sun exposure during your daily activities can cause significant damage over time. Hats and sun-protective clothing are also a good idea, as is an immune-boosting diet consisting of good sleep, regular exercise, and a nutritious diet.
Don't panic if you notice changes
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Cancer is always scary. No one likes to think about it let alone be a real possibility in their own life or that of someone they love. And that's why sometimes it's easier to just ignore it, deny it and go on with your day. But when it comes to cancer, denial is by no means your friend.
And for cancers like melanoma, which are highly curable if caught early, any delay in treatment will only make the road to recovery longer and more difficult. So the smart and courageous thing is to stay alert, aware, informed and vigilant. But that doesn't mean that when you notice a change, you should automatically assume it's cancer. The skin is a living thing that is constantly evolving.
There are many reasons why a mole can change its appearance or suddenly become irritated when it wasn't before. There are also many reasons why new growths may suddenly appear. The key is to be calm, conscientious and proactive. Learn everything you can about your body and what it needs to stay healthy and strong. Conceptthe real reason why moles suddenly appearKnowing what causes new growths and why an unexpected arrival on your skin is a cause for action (but not panic) can help you on your journey to proactively deal with every mole that appears on your skin.
It's important to get a new or existing mole checked out if it: changes shape or looks uneven. changes colour, gets darker or has more than 2 colours. starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding.How do you identify concerning moles? ›
Redness or new swelling beyond the border of a mole. Color that spreads from the border of a spot into surrounding skin. Itching, pain, or tenderness in an area that doesn't go away or goes away then comes back. Changes in the surface of a mole: oozing, scaliness, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump.What are the 4 common types of moles? ›
There are 4 common types of moles: congenital moles, dysplastic nevi, acquired nevi, and spitz nevi.What moles should you not worry about? ›
If you look at a benign, or harmless, mole, it is usually symmetrical. On the other hand, a worrisome mole is asymmetrical, meaning if you cut in half, the two sides do not look the same. Benign moles typically have a regular, round border. Cancerous moles tend to have irregular borders.What do early cancerous moles look like? ›
Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen. Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch).What do suspicious moles look like? ›
Border that is irregular: The edges of suspicious moles are ragged, notched or blurred in outline, while healthy moles tend to have more even borders. The pigment of the mole may also spread into the surrounding skin. Color that is uneven: The mole may have various colors present, including black, brown and tan.What types of moles are concerning? ›
Unusual moles that may indicate melanoma
- A is for asymmetrical shape. One half is unlike the other half.
- B is for border. ...
- C is for color. ...
- D is for diameter. ...
- E is for evolving.
Multiple colors are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colors red, white or blue may also appear.What are the 5 warning signs of melanoma? ›
- Asymmetry. The shape of one-half of the mole does not match the other.
- Border. The edges are ragged, notched, uneven, or blurred.
- Color. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. ...
- Diameter. The diameter is usually larger than 6 millimeters (mm) or has grown in size. ...
What does a common mole look like? A common mole is usually smaller than about 5 millimeters wide (about 1/4 inch, the width of a pencil eraser). It is round or oval, has a smooth surface with a distinct edge, and is often dome-shaped. A common mole usually has an even color of pink, tan, or brown.
This is another example of a benign mole that doesn't meet the general color rule. If you remember, one of the typical features of benign moles is that they have a consistent color throughout. This mole, however, is flesh colored on the perimeter and brown in the center.
Types of benign moles
The most common types of benign mole include: Compound melanocytic nevi, which are usually raised above the skin, light brown and sometimes hairy. Dermal melanocytic nevi, which are usually raised, pale and sometimes hairy. Junctional melanocytic nevi, which are usually brown, round and flat.
Spread of color from the border of a spot to the skin around it. Redness or a new swelling beyond the border. Itchiness, tenderness or pain. Change in the surface of a mole — scaliness, oozing, bleeding, a new bump or nodule.When should moles be concerning? ›
If you notice changes in any mole's color, thickness, size, or shape, you should see a dermatologist. You also should have your moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, scale, or become tender or painful. Examine your skin with a mirror or ask someone to help you.When should I start worrying about a mole? ›
If you have any moles that are larger than most, have smudgy or irregular edges, are uneven in colour or have some pinkness, you should see a doctor and get them checked. Any moles that appear newly in adulthood should be checked. The most concerning sign, however, is a changing mole.Are cancerous moles raised or flat? ›
The most common type of melanoma usually appears as a flat or barely raised lesion with irregular edges and different colours. Fifty per cent of these melanomas occur in preexisting moles.Can a dermatologist tell if a mole is cancerous just by looking at it? ›
A visual check of your skin only finds moles that may be cancer. It can't tell you for sure that you have it. The only way to diagnose the condition is with a test called a biopsy. If your doctor thinks a mole is a problem, they will give you a shot of numbing medicine, then scrape off as much of the mole as possible.Is it obvious if a mole is cancerous? ›
Melanomas might change in size, shape or colour. Or you might notice other changes such as a mole bleeding, itching or becoming crusty. Normal moles usually stay the same size, shape, and colour.How to tell the difference between a mole and a cancerous mole? ›
Normal moles are usually round with smooth edges. Melanomas are often an uneven shape. They may have 2 different shaped halves and uneven edges.Can a mole look weird but not be cancerous? ›
About 1 in 10 people develop atypical moles during their lifetime. These moles are not cancerous, and need not be removed if they are not changing. Instead, atypical moles can be a sign of an increased risk for melanoma skin cancer.
A normal mole is usually an evenly colored brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. It can be either flat or raised.
Changes in the shape, texture or height of moles may be signs of danger too. A mole that is asymmetric and/or has uneven edges can be a sign of melanoma. It may feel bumpy and/or rough to the touch – or you may feel a hard lump. A lump doesn't have to be big for the growth to be dangerous.What is Stage 1 melanoma look like? ›
Stage I melanoma is no more than 1.0 millimeter thick (about the size of a sharpened pencil point), with or without an ulceration (broken skin). There is no evidence that Stage I melanoma has spread to the lymph tissues, lymph nodes, or body organs.What are the red flags for melanoma? ›
Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesn't heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma. A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesn't heal, or a change in a mole.Do you feel sick with melanoma? ›
feeling sick. poor appetite and weight loss. a swollen tummy (called ascites) yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)Can you tell if a mole is cancerous without a biopsy? ›
The procedure that your dermatologist uses to remove the spot is called a skin biopsy. Having a skin biopsy is essential. It's the only way to know whether you have skin cancer. There's no other way to know for sure.What is the most common type of mole in adults? ›
Most adults have a type of mole called a common mole, which is harmless. There are other types of moles.How quickly does melanoma spread? ›
Melanoma can grow very quickly. It can become life-threatening in as little as 6 weeks and, if untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun.Can a mole get bigger and not be cancerous? ›
Healthy moles do not change in size, shape or color. If you notice a mole is getting bigger, changing shapes or getting darker than normal, this could be a sign of a malignant mole.What are the red flags of moles? ›
Asymmetry: Do you have a mole where one half doesn't match the other? Asymmetry is a red flag. Border: Is a mole's border fuzzy, or does it have a small notch or protrusion? Poorly defined, ragged or blurred edges are also red flags.
A mole that's suddenly different in appearance. A small, scaly patch. Itchy or tender nodules felt under the skin. A mole that's uneven in color or has a blurred border.What does cancerous skin look like? ›
It might look skin coloured, waxy, like a scar or thickened area of skin that's very slowly getting bigger. You might also see small blood vessels.How long can a mole go untreated? ›
Because it can be quickly growing, it's very dangerous to leave melanoma untreated. This skin cancer can become life-threatening within 4-6 weeks. The cure rate is high, however, if the melanoma is diagnosed and treated when it is thin or at an early stage.What does non cancerous moles look like? ›
Moles can be flat or raised, smooth or rough, and some contain hair. Most moles are dark brown or black, but some are skin-colored or yellowish. Moles can change over time and often respond to hormonal changes. Most moles are benign and no treatment is necessary.Are melanoma moles raised or flat? ›
Melanomas can start flat but become raised as they grow. 3 If you can feel it, it's likely abnormal. Sometimes in melanoma assessment, the "E" in ABCDE stands for "evolving." That's because melanomas change in size, shape, and color over time.When should I be concerned about a mole? ›
If you notice changes in any mole's color, thickness, size, or shape, you should see a dermatologist. You also should have your moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, scale, or become tender or painful. Examine your skin with a mirror or ask someone to help you.Are raised moles bad? ›
Moles are usually harmless. They may contain hairs or become raised or wrinkled. Talk to your doctor about any change in the color or size of a mole or if itching, pain, bleeding or inflammation develops.How can you visually tell if a mole is cancerous? ›
Normal moles are usually round with smooth edges. Melanomas are often an uneven shape. They may have 2 different shaped halves and uneven edges.What does a keratosis look like? ›
Seborrheic keratoses are usually brown, black or light tan. The growths (lesions) look waxy or scaly and slightly raised. They appear gradually, usually on the face, neck, chest or back.Can a mole look bad and not be cancerous? ›
About 1 in 10 people develop atypical moles during their lifetime. These moles are not cancerous, and need not be removed if they are not changing. Instead, atypical moles can be a sign of an increased risk for melanoma skin cancer.
In advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change. The skin on the surface may break down and look scraped. The mole may become hard or lumpy and the surface may ooze or bleed. Sometimes the melanoma is itchy, tender, or painful.What are the warning signs of melanoma? ›
The first sign of melanoma is often a mole that changes size, shape or color. This melanoma shows color variations and an irregular border, both of which are melanoma warning signs. Melanomas can develop anywhere on your body.Can a doctor tell if a mole is cancerous just by looking at it? ›
A visual check of your skin only finds moles that may be cancer. It can't tell you for sure that you have it. The only way to diagnose the condition is with a test called a biopsy. If your doctor thinks a mole is a problem, they will give you a shot of numbing medicine, then scrape off as much of the mole as possible.What does a bad raised mole look like? ›
Multiple colors are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colors red, white or blue may also appear. D is for Diameter or Dark.What percent of raised moles are cancerous? ›
Keep in mind some moles that look abnormal turn out to be fine, while some that look fine are found to be atypical. The risk of an atypical mole becoming cancerous is about 1%, compared to . 03% for an ordinary mole.Should I see a doctor with a raised mole? ›
See your doctor if you develop a new mole or notice a change in an existing mole or area of your skin (including under your nail). Even if you're worrying about what this might be, you shouldn't delay seeing them.