A small, single mole could appear totally harmless, but it could be a precursor to skin cancer. It is best to know a little about one’s skin to distinguish a normal mole from a cancerous one. Early detection of skin cancer is critical to the success treating it.
HOW ARE MOLES FORMED?
The human skin is composed of several layers. The top layer is the epidermis. It is very thin, but it contributes hugely to the protection of all the underlying layers of the skin. The epidermis contains melanin-producing cells called melanocytes. Melanin is the colored chemical responsible for the production of the tan color of the skin when exposed to the sun. Normally, this chemical is spread throughout the epidermal layer; however, small groups of melanocytes are sometimes clumped together to form a mole. Some scientists also think moles have something to do with a person’s DNA.
WHAT ARE NORMAL MOLES?
Normal moles develop as melanocytes cluster. Usually, adults possess about 10 to 40 of these moles, which develop on areas that are often exposed to the sun. Moles, or nevi, may be present at birth but tend to continually appear until about the age of 40.
WHAT DO NORMAL MOLES LOOK LIKE?
Usually, a mole is smaller than the width of the eraser of your pencil, which is about 5 millimeters wide. They commonly are round or oval with a smooth and distinct edge. Coloring ranges from pink and tan to brown. People who possess darker skin or hair typically have much darker moles than those with fairer skin and blond hair.
WILL A NORMAL MOLE TURN INTO SKIN CANCER?
Normal moles can turn into skin cancer. Then again, it is rare for a common mole to turn into melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. However, people who have more than 50 moles are more likely to develop melanoma. The following warning signs should not be ignored:
- A mole changes color
- A mole’s size changes unevenly
- A mole changes in elevation, shape, or texture
- Skin becomes rough and scaly
- A mole feels hard or lumpy
- A mole itches, oozes, or bleeds
Our dermatology clinic in Honolulu, led by Dr. Matsuda and Dr. Sheu, will check your moles and give you the necessary treatment if indicated.
WHAT ARE DYSPLASTIC NEVI?
A dysplastic nevus, also known as an “atypical mole”, looks different from a normal mole in several ways. It may be bigger, usually with a diameter of 5 mm or more. Coloring can range from pink to brown to dark brown. Its edges may appear irregular.
An atypical mole may manifest itself in any area of the body, but they typically appear on areas that are exposed to the rays of the sun, such as the back, face, and arms. People with quite a number of normal moles have an increased risk for the development of dysplastic nevi.
WHAT IS MELANOMA?
Melanoma is a skin cancer that involves melanocytes. It is a serious type of skin cancer as it invades nearby tissues and its cells can migrate to vital organs of the body, such as the lungs, liver, and bone. It can develop from a normal mole or a dysplastic nevus, or present as a brand new spot. Changes in the shape, color, and size of moles are signs of potential melanoma development, and merit an immediate visit to your dermatologist.
WHAT DO MELANOMA LESIONS LOOK LIKE?
The moles may be wider than 6 mm, have uneven color, and are often asymmetrical. Their edges can be ragged or blurred. These moles may look scraped or feel hard and lumpy. They can also ooze or bleed.
WHAT CAN BE DONE WHEN A MOLE IS CANCEROUS?
If your physician suspects that you have a cancerous mole, he or she may decide to perform a biopsy and remove a piece of the mole to be examined further in a laboratory. Depending on its size, the mole could be removed completely by the doctor in the office.
If the sample proves to be cancerous, you may be advised to seek a specialist to best treat the cancer. He or she might also check your lymph nodes for any signs of cancer having spread to others parts of your body.