- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Checking Your Moles: An Important Part of Skin Health
Moles are clusters of melanocyte cells, which produce melanin—our pigment. That’s why they are normally darker in color, ranging from brown to black. Sometimes they are classified as a birthmark, but new ones often continue to appear throughout life. They can be raised or flat in texture, symmetrical or asymmetrical in shape, large or small, and benign or malignant. The last of these is the most important to keep track of. Doing a regular mole check, especially when sun exposure becomes more frequent, is an important part of skin health. Caring for your skin can help prevent more serious illnesses, like cancer.
Common moles are normally no bigger than 5 millimeters in diameter, are one solid color, have a smooth surface (regardless of if they’re raised or flat), and have a distinct edge. If they’re raised, they’re normally dome-shaped. Moles on people with darker skin tend to range from dark brown to black, while on fair-skinned people they can range from pink to brown to black. They are typically benign.
These are called dysplastic nevi. A dysplastic nevus is an atypical mole, usually larger than 5 millimeters and oddly shaped, possibly containing a mixture of colors. They aren’t raised, but can have a bumpy or scaly texture, and their edges are indistinct. These are also most often benign. People who have them tend to have a higher number of common moles.
Moles and Melanoma: Sun Protection
It is essential to limit prolonged sun exposure as best you can. And whenever you’re under UV rays, wear sun block for skin protection. This becomes especially important if you have moles. Always cover your moles with sunscreen to keep them from turning malignant. According to Cancer.gov, having more than 50 moles on your body increases the chance of developing melanoma—the most deadly form of skin cancer. Cancer.gov also says the chances of developing melanoma increase ten-fold for a person with more than five dysplastic nevi.
Aside from genetic predisposition to skin cancer and the quantity of moles, the government website continues on to mention sunlight, sunburns, tanning, lifetime sun exposure, sunlamps, and tanning booths as causal factors for melanoma.
Skin Health Means Regular Mole Checks
Perform mole checks frequently if you have a family history of skin cancer. You may want to have your doctor also take a look at your moles every 3 to 6 months. When you perform a check, you’re looking for the following changes to determine if a mole might be cancerous:
- Changes in color
- Changes in size
- Changes in shape, texture, or elevation
- Dry or scaly skin at the mole site
- The mole becomes itchy
- The moles oozes or bleeds
If you notice a mole change, tell your doctor. A biopsy will prove whether or not it’s cancerous. The doctor may remove your mole it even if it’s not malignant, depending on a few factors; these include age, family history, sun exposure, and the severity of the changes in the mole.