Almost everyone in the world has at least a few moles on their body. In fact, by the time most people reach adulthood, they generally have between 10 and 40 moles spread across their skin. Most of these moles aren’t present at birth but develop throughout adolescence. By the age of 20, most people already have all of the moles that they will have throughout life, though some may appear in older years or after continued sun exposure. Although most moles are entirely harmless and are even referred to as “beauty marks,” some can be dangerous and should be seen by a dermatologist before they become cancerous. Understanding what to look for in a mole is crucial to your health.
Moles are created by clusters of skin pigmentation cells that have risen to the top of your skin, or epidermis, instead of being spread out across a larger area. This process in itself is natural and nothing to be alarmed about. The first step in making sure your moles are healthy is to monitor them regularly. Dermatologists recommend you do a full skin scan on your moles monthly. Moles that remain consistent in shape, size, and coloration are generally safe. A regular self-examination will ease most of your worries since the majority are benign. If there is a particular mole that concerns you, you can opt to photograph it regularly and inspect for changes yourself. If any changes are noticed, you should contact a dermatologist to have it evaluated.
If you notice some key differences in the growth or evolution of your moles, you will want to consider them potentially cancerous. The evolution of some moles that give cause for caution are changes in the symmetry of the mole, blurring borders, discoloration, and growth of the mole itself. These all indicate that the mole could become cancerous. If this is the case, a dermatologist can biopsy the growth and, if necessary, surgically remove it from your skin. This is generally a simple outpatient procedure depending on your specific case.
There are some people who naturally have a higher propensity for developing cancerous moles. Knowing your skin and monitoring it is essential for these people. Individuals with more than 50 moles on their bodies have a higher likelihood of developing cancer. Additionally, those born with congenital nevi, moles present at birth, should be very aware that the diameter of the mole does not grow. The larger the congenital nevi, the higher likelihood of requiring removal. And, naturally, if a mole becomes itchy, inflamed, or starts to bleed, a dermatologic visit is highly advised. If, however, a mole disappears over time, there is no need for alarm.
When skin cancer is caught early, removal can be a simple procedure that may leave minimal scarring. The longer you wait to have an irregular mole checked, the higher likelihood that the mole will be cancerous, and the surgical removal could be more extensive. In short, remember to keep an eye on your skin, especially your moles. If you are unable to do a full self-scan at home, consider asking your dermatologist to perform one for you regularly. Other forms of skin cancer develop due to prolonged sun exposure over time. By checking your moles and wearing sunscreen regularly, you can greatly reduce your odds of ever having skin cancer.