When Is a Mole Considered a Sign of Skin Cancer?
Most moles a person develops are harmless, but 29% of skin cancer starts in moles people already have. By adulthood, it’s normal to have 10 to 40 moles, but knowing which ones are cancerous can be challenging. If you have a suspicious mole, use this mole evaluation guide to assess it and see a doctor for concrete answers.
Evaluating Suspicious Moles
What Is a Mole?
Moles are skin lesions that occur when a high concentration of melanocytes (skin cells that give skin its color) cluster in one area. They can appear just about anywhere on the body.
People can have moles from birth or develop them later in life. While most moles are harmless, people with many moles are more likely to develop skin cancer and melanoma.
What Is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in the melanocytes, which is why having more moles increases the risk of developing it. Because melanocytes are present in every part of the skin, melanoma spreads quicker than other types of skin cancer. It can even spread from skin cancer moles to other organs in later stages.
A Normal Mole Versus Melanoma
If you have a new mole or think a mole you’ve had your entire life has changed, it’s always best to consult a licensed medical professional. However, most normal, non-cancerous moles have common traits:
- They’re a single color: brown, blue, tan, skin-toned, or even skin-like shades of red and pink.
- They’re evenly round.
- They’re less than a quarter-inch across or about the size of a pencil eraser.
- Their border is well-defined from the rest of your complexion.
- They don’t change much.
An atypical mole, also known as a dysplastic naevus:
- Is larger
- Doesn’t have defined borders, and may blend into your complexion around the edges
- Isn’t round
- Is multi-colored. They may contain a mix of regular mole colors and even white.
- Have a smooth, scaly, or bumpy surface
- Can be raised slightly or perfectly flat
If a normal mole’s appearance changes or bleeds and oozes, it may have become cancerous.
It may be difficult to analyze every mole on your body, so have a trusted friend, spouse, or family member help. Always inspect with mirrors and bright light.
What to Do if You Suspect Skin Cancer
Mole evaluation and diagnosis is important because early-stage skin cancer is easier to treat and cure. If you suspect a mole might be cancerous, there’s only one thing to do: see a licensed physician or dermatologist.
At the Dermatology and Mohs Surgery Institute’s many statewide locations, we provide melanoma and skin cancer screenings in Illinois. We discuss every evaluation and treatment with compassion and authority. Contact us today to schedule a skin cancer screening and explore treatment options.