According to the Moffitt Cancer Center, while most skin cancers are the results of years of cumulative sun exposure, melanoma is the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in 15-19 year-olds, and the most common form of cancer affecting young adults between the ages of 25 and 29. Childhood activities like sports and swimming bring kids out into the sun frequently, and young skin is especially vulnerable to UV damage. Melanoma will look like a mole, but it displays certain characteristics that make it different from a regular mole.
A mole is a cluster of pigmented cells, thought to be the result of sun damage and plain genetics. It is round or oval, has a smooth surface with a distinct edge (or is flat), and is uniform in color. The average person has somewhere between 10 and 40 moles on their body. Most moles are nothing to worry about, and many remain our entire lives. New moles tend to arrive when hormone levels change or from sun damage like sunburn. When new ones arrive, it’s important to take notice and potentially have a preventative screening. When warning signs do show up, often a mole removal treatment will be a way of testing for skin cancer and an early intervention.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that spreads quickly, making it one of the most dangerous forms of cancer. If it has time to spread from the skin into the body, it can quickly produce cancer throughout the body. Since melanoma is very fast-acting, detection and early intervention are key. There is a common but helpful method for detecting melanoma and recognizing its warning signs. It’s as simple as ABCDE. If a mole exhibits any or all of these qualities, you should have a dermatologist examination.
Asymmetry: A mole is asymmetrical when one half doesn’t match the other. Essentially, an asymmetrical mole is any mole that isn’t round and uniform in shape.
Border: The outside edges of a mole should be fairly rounded. If the border of a mole on your body is irregular or poorly defined, it could be a problem.
Color: If your mole isn’t one shade of dark brown and is instead pink or varies in color throughout, it could be cancerous. A mole can be a lot of different colors, like red, tan, or even bluish. These colors could be a good indication of skin cancer.
Diameter: If your mole’s width is larger than about 6 millimeters (or a pencil eraser, as we mentioned before), it may be melanoma. Since melanoma results from uninhibited cell growth, the moles it produces will often grow larger than a common mole.
Evolving: If a mole starts out small and grows larger, or develops into different colors, or begins exhibiting any of the other ABCDs, it is evolving. An evolving, changing mole is a good indicator that melanoma might be responsible.
If you have more than 50 moles, a history of intense sun exposure, a family history of melanoma, or you've had one or more blistering sunburns, your doctor will likely recommend regular preventive skin cancer screenings. In addition, certain physical features may make you more likely to develop skin cancer. If you have light hair, light skin, and light eyes, for example, you may be at a higher risk for certain types of skin cancer.
Preventive screenings are effective at identifying early signs of a problem, and early intervention increases the likelihood of successful treatment for melanoma skin cancer. Schedule an appointment with one of our dermatologists today to have your skin examined and cared for as needed.