Are Moles Dangerous?

What are moles?

Moles are caused when there is a concentrated increase in the density of pigment instead of spreading throughout the skin as they normally do. Most moles form within your first 30 years of your life and often start to fade later in life. It is normal for moles to change slowly; change colour, becoming raised or developing hair on them. Moles are most often benign (harmless), forming because of genetics, hormones and according to some scientists, the sun.

How do I know if they're cancerous?

A good method is the ABCDE technique with 5 things to check for: Mole Evaluation Guide Melanoma Warning Signs: Experiencing swelling, pain, itchiness, oozing, bleeding, tenderness, or/and scaly appearance on a mole. A mole that is out of step with other surrounding moles, often dubbed the 'ugly ducking mole', is also an important warning sign of a cancerous mole.

The evaluation technique above can be used for checking for all types of skin cancer.

What are dysplastic nevi?

Dysplastic nevi, also known as atypical moles, are moles that have a different appearance compared to normal moles, with characteristics often resembling cancerous moles. They are not cancerous themselves, but have a higher chance than a normal mole to develop into melanoma (one of the 3 main types of skin cancer).

How are they treated if they're cancerous?

Standard procedure after being diagnosed with a cancerous mole is to undergo surgery. Most often the procedures remove only the tumor and some surrounding skin and fatty tissue. If the cancer has spread, chemotherapy and radiotherapy will most likely also be used.

Can you get them removed even if they're not cancerous?

Yes, cosmetic mole treatments are possible although these procedures can sometimes be expensive.

Should I be afraid of my moles?

Overall, the chance of any given mole evolving into a melanoma is very minimal. Moles are extremely common, and only a very small percentage of them have the potential of becoming cancerous. There is no reason to be paranoid. Understanding the warning signs can help you identify those few exceptions that could be dangerous.

Mole checklist:

  • Do routine self-checkups once a month using the Mole Evaluation GUIDE
  • If you see any suspicious change in your moles, have it checked by a dermatologist immediately
  • Depending on your chances of developing skin cancer, go see a dermatologist a couple times a year to get a check-up

Here are 8 risk factors that increase your chances of developing skin cancer:

  • Having a dysplastic nevus
  • Having more than 50 common moles
  • If you've already had skin cancer
  • If it runs in the family
  • Having had severe, blistering sunburns, a lifetime exposure to sun, and a history of tanning
  • Sunlamps and tanning booths
  • Having fair skin, blue, grey, or green eyes and red or blonde hair
  • Medical conditions or medicines that increase your sensitivity to the sun
  • And the best way to keep them from becoming cancerous is by practicing safe sun habits (wear sunscreen, don't go to tanning beds, wear protective clothing etc.)

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