We're forever warned about looking after our skin in order to prevent skin cancer, and that includes paying special attention to our moles. But how do you know what to look out for? Is a raised mole always cancerous? Is a black mole okay? What mole changes do you need to keep a close eye on? Cluing yourself up on the tell-tale signs that indicate your mole may have the potential to become cancerous can protect your health and also serve to reassure you.
We spoke to Claire Crilly, Skin Cancer Screening Specialist at The MOLE Clinic, who pointed out which mole aesthetics could be cause for concern, and which most likely mean you've got nothing to worry about.
"Moles are like a family, there should always be another mole that looks similar," explained Crilly. "If you have a mole on its own and looks as if it does not fit on your body, seek professional guidance from a skin cancer specialist."
Everyone should self-monitor all of their moles every three months, and this can be done at home using the ‘ABCDE’ technique:
A) Asymmetry: Look for moles that are asymmetrical in shape, where one half of the mole is unlike the other
B) Irregular Border: Does the mole have an irregular border? Is it scalloped, jagged or poorly defined?
C) Irregular Colour: Is the colour of the mole different from one area to another or does it have different shades of tan, brown or black?
D) Diameter: Check the diameter of the mole to see if it is bigger than 6mm (about the size of the end of a pencil)
E) Evolution: Is the mole evolving or changing size, shape or colour?
"Any new or changing moles should be seen by a skin cancer specialist," adds Crilly, who notes that "some people are at higher risk of melanoma than others due to for example, family history of melanoma, personal history, having over 100 moles, or atypical moles and should be monitored according to the above guidelines."
But for more detail about different characteristics of moles, and the level of risk they hold, read on...
Your mole is... asymmetrical
Benign (non-cancerous) moles tend to be symmetrical. If you were to place an imaginary mirror in a line in the middle of the mole, it should be the same on either side. Remember, all moles are individual to the person, and no moles will be perfect. If a mole is asymmetrical seek advice from a skin cancer specialist.
Your mole is... raised above the skin
There are many reasons why raised moles occur, the main one being a healthy benign intradermal mole, which can be genetic, long standing, soft and sometimes wobbly to touch. They may lose colour or get darker with age. These types of moles should be monitored for drastic change, but generally aren't cause for concern.
However, moles that change and become raised could be an indication of melanoma (as pictured above), and as mentioned previously, if a mole changes, seek advice from skin cancer specialist.
Your mole is... big
Some moles may be big due to the type of mole they are, for example a congenital mole (also known as a birthmark) which are present from birth and do not tend to change. However, due to their size and dark pigment they are higher risk for melanoma, so keep an eye out for any changes or for any of the symptoms listed in the 'ABCDE' guide above.
Your mole has... many colours
If your mole has multiple colours you should seek advice from a skin cancer specialist.
Your mole is... black/very dark in colour
Depending on your skin type, your moles may well be darker in colour. Again this reverts back to your individual moles and what is normal for you. If all of your moles are similar then that is a good sign. Also, there is a lesion called simple lentigo, also known as an ink spot, which are extremely black but benign. It is always safe to have these lesions assessed due to the dark pigment.
However, if your mole is dark in colour and different to others, or if it has changed in colour to become dark, do seek advice from a skin specialist. The mole pictured above is an example of a melanoma mole.
Your mole is... growing in size or changing shape
Moles can change over your lifetime, and can become darker, lighter, larger, fade or disappear completely. However, this should never be drastic or in a short space of time. If this does happen do seek advice from skin cancer specialist.
Your mole has... an uneven border
If your mole has an uneven border this can be a sign of change, and again this needs to be assessed by a skin cancer specialist.
Your mole has... hair growing out of it
Our body is covered in hair, many moles will have hair growing out of them and this is therefore not an indicator that it's either a benign or a cancerous mole.
And it's not always about the way a mole looks that might be an indication it's cancerous, you should also pay attention to the way it feels:
Your mole is... itchy or sore
Large intradermal moles may catch on items of clothing which can cause them to be itchy or sore. However, if you have an itchy more or a sore mole you must seek advice from a skin cancer specialist.
If you're concerned about a changing or growing mole, or anything else, make sure to book in a visit to the GP.
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