WHAT IS A MOLE AND WHAT CAUSES IT?
A mole, also called a naevus are skin lesions that are normally small, brown, round or oval shaped. Moles consist of a mass of brown-coloured cells that are generally found in the skin or mucus membranes. Known as melanocytes, these are the cells behind tanning or dark skin. Moles occur when melanocytes form clusters in the skin instead of spreading out.
Between childhood and adolescence, sun exposure influences the number of moles that can appear on the skin as well as their size. Common moles begin to appear between the age of six months and a year and then continue to appear until adulthood. Many moles are harmless, but some can become cancerous.
HOW TO CHECK YOUR MOLES
Identifying suspicious moles early is key when it comes to positive outcomes for skin cancer. A 2017 report* found 70% of melanomas were from new moles, so it is important to monitor your skin for new and old ones.
Check your moles in a room with good light. Items such as a full-length mirror, hand mirror, a chair and even a hair dryer can assist you to examine moles all over your body.
Equipment you can use:
- Full-length mirror to look at the back of your body, for example your legs and back.
- A hand mirror for any small moles that are difficult to see.
- Hair dryer to move your hair to one side to check the whole of your scalp, and a
- Chair, so that you can thoroughly check the soles of your feet.
The ABCDE method is a set of guidelines created by dermatologists to help you recognize and identify suspicious moles. Use the ABCDE guide to check your beauty spots—and those of your loved ones—regularly.
A - Asymmetry – If you “folded” your mole in half, would both sides be identical?
B - Borders – Are the edges jagged or irregular instead of smooth?
C- Colour – Is the mole one solid colour or is there a variation of black, brown and/or red?
D- Diameter – While melanomas aren’t necessarily large, any mole that’s more than 6mm wide should be monitored extra closely.
E- Evolution – Has the mole evolved? Is there any change in size, colour, borders, elevation, texture, or any other change such as bleeding or crusting? If there has been any change in your mole, get it checked by a doctor immediately.
It is important to note that the above information and ABCDE method is just guide. Cancerous moles can present with many different characteristics and may look like a small common mole.
Completing a full check of your skin regularly is key. The Cancer Council NSW states there is no set recommendation as to how often you should check your skin. If you have factors that put you at a higher risk, speak to your doctor for guidance on how often you should self-check.
A visit to your dermatologist every 12 months to check your moles will help identify cancerous moles as soon as possible. There are also bulk billing clinics across Australia which check moles.
TYPES OF MOLES
The three main types of moles are congenital, acquired moles, and atypical.
A congenital mole is a mole that you are born with, or one that appears soon after birth. This type of mole is often black or brown, and occasionally very large. At birth a congenital mole is generally harmless, but those that are large do have a slightly higher risk of becoming cancerous in later life.
ACQUIRED MOLES – COMMON MOLES
Acquired moles are those that are developed after birth and are the most common type. By the age of 15 years, many people in Australia will have more than 50 moles. Acquired moles, also known as acquired nevi, can be flat or raised, and can be pink, brown or black. These moles are typically less than a centimetre in diameter and evenly coloured. The number of acquired moles someone will get throughout their lifetime depends on their genetics and the amount of sun exposure they receive.
ATYPICAL MOLES – DYSPLASTIC MOLES
Atypical moles are unusual looking moles that have irregular size, colour, shape or edges. These moles may be benign, but they need close attention as atypical moles have increased risk of turning into melanomas. Look for the signs below:
- Edge: Uneven borders.
- Colour: Contain more than one colour: black, brown, pink, white.
- Surface: Rough or bumpy.
- Size: Larger than average; larger than 5mm in diameter.
See a doctor if there are any changes at all in your moles so it can be reviewed and a biopsy taken if required. Early detection is important in preventing the growth of skin cancer. Protect your moles by wearing a UVA and UVB broad-spectrum sunscreen and regularly check your moles
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