Moles are common skin growths that are typically harmless—but not always.
You might not even give it much thought when you’ve had a mole for a long time and it hasn’t changed at all. If a new one suddenly appears, you might grow concerned about how and why that happened and what that means for your health.
When is a new mole cause for concern? What should you look out for when it comes to your skin, and how can you tell if a mole is potentially dangerous?
Why New Moles Appear
In the deeper layers of your skin, cells called melanocytes produce a brown pigment called melanin. This is what gives your skin its color. Melanin also provides some protective properties against the sun.
Sometimes, melanocytes proliferate and cluster together in a small area, resulting in a concentrated patch of pigment—a mole. This can happen as a result of:
● Sun exposure
● Changes in hormones
● Immune system activity
● Certain genetic/inherited conditions
This irregularity of melanocytes can also be associated with the development of skin cancer, such as melanoma.
The ABCDEF’s of Melanoma
The vast majority of moles are harmless, but it’s important to pay attention to any changes or abnormalities that may occur.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, but it is relatively rare. Public health officials have put together a helpful guide to make it easier to identify potentially dangerous moles:
● A – Asymmetry : Is the shape of the mole or spot uneven, irregular, or asymmetrical?
● B – Border : Does the mole’s border appear ragged, blurry, or uneven?
● C – Color : Is the color of the mole, not uniform, or does it have shades of brown, black, blue, red, tan, or white?
● D – Diameter : Is the mole larger than 1/4 inch (the size of a pencil eraser)?
● E – Evolving : Has the mole changed in any way, such as size, shape, or color?
● F – Funny-looking : Does this mole look unusual or different from other moles you have?
If the answer is yes to any of these questions, it’s important to see your doctor right away. Your doctor or dermatologist will be able to perform a physical examination and have the mole tested for any signs of cancer.
Signs of Other Types of Skin Cancer
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of cancer. It usually appears as a ring-shaped or oval growth on the surface of your skin, with an open sore in the center.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It usually appears as a thick, scaly, crusty patch on the surface of your skin. It won’t heal or get better with topical lotions. It may even bleed. It may also develop into a hard, pointy growth called a cutaneous horn. This is made of keratin—the same protein that makes up your hair and nails.
Any time you have a growth, spot, or rash on your skin that looks unusual or you are concerned about, see your doctor right away. There’s a good chance it is harmless, but the only way to be sure is to have it evaluated. Early detection and treatment of skin cancer are key to achieving a positive outcome.
Preventing Skin Cancer
The best way to prevent skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun. Wear broad-spectrum sunscreen any time you are going to be outside for a length of time, even on cold and cloudy days. Wear long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses to further protect your skin from the sun’s rays.
Avoid tanning beds and tanning salons, which can be dangerous. The ultraviolet radiation they emit can increase your risk of skin cancer in the same way that the sun can.
Tanning is a sign that your skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself from further exposure. Those melanin-producing cells are stimulated to produce more melanin, which darkens your skin, and also increases the risk that an abnormal mole or skin cancer might develop.
Check your skin regularly for any signs of abnormal moles or growths, and contact your doctor or dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns.