Men and women of all ages, colours and creeds have moles. These little skin growths made up of natural skin pigment can be randomly scattered all over our body – some people have a lot, and some have none. Sometimes they’re dark brown, red or even light. But there’s something mysterious about moles despite what we know: they can change and they can become cancerous.
For the most part, moles never cause a problem and are just a part of our skin, however living in Australia, where the incidences of skin cancer are so high, we need to be careful even if we think the mole is normal.
But how can we truly know? We’ve done the hard work and found all you need to know about moles and whether to be worried.
1. Follow the ABCDE rule
Use this simple tool to decide if a doctor should inspect your mole:
Asymmetry – It isn’t a perfect circle/one side is not the same as the other
Border that is irregular – The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
Colour that is uneven – Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.
Diameter – There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than 6 millimeters wide (about .25 inch wide).
Evolving – The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.
2. The different types of melanomas
According to the Cancer Council, there are three main types of skin cancer- melanoma (including nodular melanoma), basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
- Most deadly form of skin cancer.
- If left untreated can spread to other parts of the body.
- Appears as a new spot or an existing spot that changes in colour, size or shape.
- Can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun.
- Grows quickly.
- Looks different from common melanomas. Raised and even in colour.
- Many are red or pink and some are brown or black.
- They are firm to touch and dome-shaped.
- After a while they begin to bleed and crust.
Basal cell carcinoma
- Most common, least dangerous form of skin cancer.
- Red, pale or pearly in colour, appears as a lump or dry, scaly area.
- May ulcerate or fail to completely heal.
- Grows slowly, usually on areas that are often exposed to the sun.
Squamous cell carcinoma
- A thickened, red scaly spot that may bleed easily, crust or ulcerate.
- Grows over some months, usually on areas often exposed to the sun.
- More likely to occur in people over 50 years of age.
3. What is the difference between a freckle and a mole?
Freckles are small usually pale brown areas of skin whereas moles are areas of darker pigmented (brown or brown/black) on the skin.
4. How common are worrying moles?
Moles that are considered unusual or ‘atypical’ occur in around 10 per cent of the population. Only one in ten thousand of these people will have a malignant (cancerous) mole.
6. If my moles change appearance does it mean I have cancer?
Don’t worry: moles can change appearance and most of these changes will not be cancers. With that said, you should see a doctor if you notice any change to a mole.
7. How are moles removed?
If you need a mole removed, your doctor will remove the mole and a bit of tissue around the mole to ensure that no cancer cells remain. There are different techniques used for different areas that will lead to minimal scarring.
8. I just noticed a new mole. What should I do?
If you get a new mole see your doctor as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to determine if it is cancerous and what needs to be done to remove it.