Skin Cancer – When To Worry About Moles

Skin Cancer – When To Worry About Moles

Moles are groups of pigmented cells in the skin that can range in colour, shape and size and can be found on any part of your body.  Most moles are harmless, but in some cases they can become cancerous.

There are many types of skin cancer but the most serious form is malignant melanoma. According to the Canadian Dermatology Association, when found at an early stage, melanoma has one of the highest cure rates of all cancers at more than 90 per cent. If left untreated, melanoma starts to invade into the skin. When it reaches the blood stream or the lymphatic system, it has a chance to spread to other parts of the body and often causes death.

The best way to avoid potential problems is to monitor your moles and become familiar with their shape, size and location including areas that are not exposed to sunlight such as the scalp, armpits and feet.

Mole mapping may be considered for people who have risk factors for skin cancer, or are concerned about developing skin cancer. Mole mapping is a technique whereby a person’s moles  are catalogued or ‘mapped’ by a medical doctor. The images created can then be used as part of a person’s skin cancer surveillance program. Employed in conjunction with other diagnostic methods, this technology can aid in catching melanoma early, when it’s most treatable.

Risk factors for developing melanoma include:

  • Personal or family history of melanoma
  • The presence of many moles (more than 50)
  • History of severe sun burns or history of excessive sun exposure
  • Light-coloured skin and blond or red hair
  • Diseases that suppress the immune system

An easy tool to use at home when checking your moles is the ABCDE rule. If you notice any of these changes, see your doctor:

A – Asymmetric shape: Moles with two different halves may have a higher risk of skin cancer.

B – Irregular border: Look for moles with notched or scalloped edges or borders that are not smooth in shape. Also beware of any redness developing around a mole.

C – Colour change: If a mole has many colours or an uneven distribution or is darkening in colour, get it checked out.

D – Diameter: Growths larger than 6mm can be at higher risk of being cancerous.

E – Evolving: Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or changes in colour or shape. Also beware of new signs and symptoms, such as itchiness or bleeding.

Another helpful tip is to note that most moles on the body will look similar to each other. So if you notice a mole that is different – sometimes referred to as “the  ugly duckling mole” – this could signal something is wrong.

In addition to early detection, remember the best prevention for skin cancer is to reduce sun exposure, use sunscreen regularly and avoid burns.