You may get regular mammograms, if you’re a woman, to check for breast cancer, or a regular digital exam or PSA test, if you’re a man, to check for prostate cancer. You may have given up — or entirely avoided — cigarettes to minimize your risk for lung cancer.
Though breast, lung, and prostate cancers can be deadly and are fairly common, they aren’t the most common cancer in the United States, by far. That distinction belongs to skin cancer; more than 3 million people in the US are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. And the statistics get worse each year.
The expert dermatologists and skin specialists at Specialists in Dermatology — located in Houston, Texas, and The Woodlands, Texas — are experts at detecting and treating skin cancer. Skin cancer is most common in sun-exposed areas of your body, but some skin cancers aren’t directly related to the sun.
That’s why we strongly urge you to keep track of your moles for any changes that could be an early sign of skin cancer. In between your yearly skin-cancer screenings, here’s what you should know about your moles:
Moles are a “normal” skin abnormality that occur when too many melanocytes (i.e., the cells that give your skin its color) clump together. Also called a “nevus” (or “nevi” for more than one,) moles tend to be darker than your normal skin. Normal moles have just one color, such as:
As you age, your moles may become lumpier or slightly larger over a long period of time. They may also sprout hairs. Although these changes aren’t attractive, they’re just part of the normal progression of a mole.
If you’ve had the same moles for years, they’re regularly shaped, they’re each smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser, and they haven’t changed much at all, you probably shouldn’t worry. However, if you’re concerned, get a baseline skin-cancer screening so that you know that the moles you currently have are benign.
Annual skin-cancer screenings help you keep track of your moles over time. The more moles you have, the more likely you are to develop skin cancer. You’re also at greater risk for skin cancer if you had congenital nevi, that is, moles that were present at birth.
Your dermatologist checks areas of your skin where you might not think to look to make sure you don’t have any dysplastic moles, which are abnormal moles that sometimes develop into skin cancers. They can even appear in areas that were never exposed to sun, such as in your genital folds.
If new moles appear between your skin-cancer screenings or if your moles are changing or evolving, they could be cause for concern. Worrisome changes that could be a sign of melanoma, which is the most deadly form of skin cancer, include:
Benign moles are very slow-growing. You may not even notice that it’s gotten bigger until you notice the change in an old photograph.
Dysplastic moles may spread past their borders, developing a scalloped or asymmetric appearance. A mole that grows quickly or becomes larger than a pencil eraser should be evaluated by a dermatologist.
Moles shouldn’t cause any symptoms at all. Call your dermatologist if your mole bleeds, itches, oozes, or feels tender or painful.
Though an aging mole may look a little lumpier than it did when you were younger, the two halves should still more or less match. If one side of your mole is significantly larger than the other, or is a different shape, contact your dermatologist.
Benign moles are one color, with slight variations in tone. Contact your dermatologist if your mole develops multiple shades or colors, such as:
An easy way to remember changes in a mole that needs attention from a dermatologist is the mnemonic ABCDE: Asymmetry, Borders, Color, Diameter, Evolving. Also remember that moles that have symptoms, such as pain or bleeding, must be looked at right away.
If you do have a dysplastic mole, your dermatologist can remove it in the office so that you don’t have to worry about it anymore. In fact, even if your mole is normal, if you don’t like the way it looks, we can remove it for you.
Find out more about your moles and the changes you need to look out for by booking a mole evaluation today. Phone the Specialists in Dermatology office nearest you today, or fill out our convenient online scheduling form.