An Easy Guide How to Tell a Mole from Melanoma. Infographics Included!

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An Easy Guide How to Tell a Mole from Melanoma. Infographics Included!

Moles are small colored spots on the skin made up of cells called melanocytes, which produce the color (pigment) in your skin. Their medical name is melanocytic naevi.

Moles are often a brownish color, although some may be darker or skin-colored. They can be flat or raised, smooth or rough, and some have hair growing from them. Moles are usually circular or oval with a smooth edge.

Some moles are present at birth, although most develop during the first 30 years of life. People with fair skin often have more moles than people with darker skin.

An Easy Guide How to Tell a Mole from Melanoma

You are more likely to develop lots of moles, or a certain type of mole, if they are common in your family.

Where you were brought up may also make a difference – for example, if you have spent a lot of time in the sun, you may have a lot of small moles.

Moles can change in number and appearance. Some fade away over time, often without you realizing.

Most moles are completely harmless. However, they may be unsightly and affect your confidence. Moles can also be a nuisance, for example if they regularly catch on your clothing or you cut them while shaving. These moles can be surgically treated, although it can be expensive.

Changes to a mole may be an early indication of a type of skin cancer called melanoma.

Melanoma is a serious and aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanomas usually appear as a dark, fast-growing spot where there was not one before, or a pre-existing mole that changes size, shape or color and bleeds, itches or reddens. In rare instances, it may not be pigmented.

By regularly checking your own skin, you may notice moles that are changing as well as identify new moles.

The main treatment for melanoma is surgery, although your treatment will depend on your circumstances. If melanoma is diagnosed and treated at an early stage then surgery is usually successful, although you may need follow-up care to prevent melanoma recurring.

You should check your skin every few months for any new moles that develop (particularly after your teenage years, when new moles become less common) or any changes to existing moles. A mole can change in weeks or months.

Things to look for include:

– moles with uneven coloring – most moles only have one or two colors, but melanomas have lots of different shades

– moles with an uneven or ragged edge – moles are usually circular or oval with a smooth border

– bleeding, itching, red, inflamed (swollen) or crusty moles

– moles that get a lot bigger – most moles are no bigger than the width of a pencil

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A helpful way to remember what to look for is to use the ABCDE method.

– Asymmetry

– Border irregularity

– Color variation

– Diameter larger than five millimeters

– Evolving

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If your moles do not change over time, there is little reason for concern. If you see any signs of change in an existing mole, if you have a new mole, or if you want a mole to be removed for cosmetic reasons, talk to your doctor or dermatologist.

You should check your skin every few months for any new moles that develop (particularly after your teenage years, when new moles become less common) or any changes to existing moles. A mole can change in weeks or months.

Preventing cancerous moles

If you have a lot of moles, it’s important to take extra care in the sun. Although it’s not always possible to prevent melanoma, avoiding overexposure to UV light can reduce your chances of developing it.

You can help protect yourself from sun damage if you:

– stay in the shade when the sun is at its strongest (between 11am and 3pm)

– cover up with clothes, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses

– use a high-factor sunscreen (minimum SPF15) and reapply it regularly, particularly after swimming

– avoid using sunlamps or sunbeds because they give out UV rays.

Reference: NationalCancerInstitute, WebMD