Most people have a few moles somewhere on their bodies. Moles are pigmented growths on the skin that are usually harmless. However, it is possible for a mole to become cancerous so it is important to see a dermatologist at least once a year for a skin cancer screening. Dr. David Thomas and Dr. Margaret Hobson Dupree, the board-certified dermatologists at North County Dermatology Center in Encinitas, CA, screen moles and can help you identify the warning signs of skin cancer.
What Are Moles?
Melanocytes are a type of cell responsible for pigmentation in the skin. Moles develop when melanocyte cells grow in clusters rather than spreading out evenly across the skin. Most moles are brown or black in color with an oval or a round shape. Moles can develop anywhere on the skin and can be flat or raised, as well as smooth or rough. Moles are quite common and most adults have anywhere between 10-40 moles on their body.
Moles and Skin Cancer
Most of the time moles are harmless, but some can become cancerous. One factor that increases the risk of a mole developing melanoma or another type of skin cancer is repeated exposure to ultraviolet light. Wearing sunscreen and protective clothing in the sun helps reduce this risk.
Two things to look for in moles that are associated with an increased risk of developing cancer include:
- Moles that are atypical (e.g., irregularly shaped, larger than average, uneven borders)
- High number of moles - individuals with 50 moles or more have a higher risk of developing skin cancer
The experienced dermatologists at our office in Encinitas, CA, check moles as part of the skin cancer screening process. When examining moles, there are five skin cancer warning signs to watch out for. The presence of any of these signs is an indication that a mole is or could become cancerous. The American Academy of Dermatology refers to these warning signs as the ABCDEs and they are as follows:
- Asymmetry — If the two halves of a mole are asymmetrical, meaning they do not match, in size, shape, and color, cancer could be present.
- Border — A mole with edges that are poorly defined, scalloped, or irregular could be cancerous.
- Color — Moles that are an inconsistent color throughout (e.g. darker center with lighter edges) could be cancerous.
- Diameter — Moles with a diameter larger than 6mm or 1/4 inch have higher risk of being cancerous.
- Evolving — Changes in the texture, shape, size, or color of a mole over time are a sign of possible skin cancer.
Although most moles are generally harmless, it is wise to undergo a skin cancer screening at least once every year. It is also important to see a dermatologist right away if you observe any of the five ABCDE warning signs that a mole could be cancerous. Schedule a skin cancer screening with Dr. Thomas or Dr. Hobson Dupree that includes a check of your moles by calling North County Dermatology Center in Encinitas, CA, at (760) 230-2805.