Is That Mole Normal? Recognizing Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers
It’s a common question that dermatologists hear all the time: “Is this mole normal?” In most cases, the answer will be yes. Moles are a very normal part of healthy skin that first appear during the first 25 years of your life. By the time you’re an adult, you may have as many as 40 moles or more. Most are brown or black and are perfectly healthy.
However, if a mole changes or a new one suddenly appears, it’s usually a good idea to have it checked by your dermatologist. Knowing what to look for is important too. It can help you quickly identify something out of the ordinary before it becomes a problem.
The Different Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that usually develops on areas of your body exposed to the sun. Anyone can get skin cancer, but people who have lighter color skin and hair are at higher risk.
There are a few different types of skin cancer:
- Actinic Keratosis: AKs are dry, scaly patches of skin. They usually appear in people who are over 40 with fair skin. This is what doctors will refer to as “pre-cancer,” since these patches can evolve into a variety of different skin cancers.
- Basil Cell Carcinoma: BCC is the most common type of skin cancer, with more than 4 million cases diagnosed each year. They usually look like a flesh-colored bump or a pink patch of skin.
- Squalus Cell Carcinoma: SCC is also very common and looks like a red bump or a sore that heals and reopens. They are common on the ears, face, neck, chest, and back.
- Melanoma: Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. However, it is highly treatable if caught early enough. It looks like a dark spot or changing mole.
What to Look for: Know Your ABCDEs
If something looks suspicious on your skin, the best policy is always to get it checked out by a doctor. You can recognize problems by remembering your ABCDEs. Look for:
- Asymmetry: Are the borders of the mole asymmetrical? In normal moles, both halves will look pretty much the same.
- Border: Is the border irregular? Your mole should have a fairly round and even border, not jagged or poorly defined.
- Color: Is the mole the same color throughout? Normal moles do not have dark spots or different shades and colors.
- Diameter: Is the mole larger than a pencil eraser? Most suspicious moles are larger.
- Evolving: Did your mole change? Normal moles are consistent over time and don’t change much.
Protect Yourself During Summer
It’s important to protect your skin all year round, but especially when the sun’s rays are at their strongest during summer. Wear sunscreen with a skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and avoid the sun during the hottest times of the day – between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Finally, don’t forget to reapply your sunscreen frequently, especially if you are swimming or sweating. Following a few precautions this summer will help to keep your skin healthy and safe.