Moles-Usually Harmless, but Take No Chances

The ABCDs of Moles and MelanomaMoles are grouped cells containing pigment that appear as small brown spots, usually on your face, arms, legs, and torso, but the truth is, moles can develop anywhere on your body. The average person has anywhere from a total of ten to forty moles, with the number varying over time, as new ones can come into being and old ones disappear. Moles have a lifespan of approximately fifty years, and the majority of them are completely harmless. However, some moles, or nevus as they are known in medical circles, can become cancerous, and keeping a close eye on moles is vital in detecting some forms of skin cancer.

Cells called melanocytes manufacture a natural pigment that the skin gets its color from-melanin. Melanocytes lie in the top layers of the skin; when they grow in clusters they combine to form a mole. Researchers have yet to identify why moles come into existence and if they even have a purpose, but they do feel that they are determined before birth as to where they will wind up. Moles are most often a dark brown hue, but they can also be skin colored as well. Moles come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and usually show up during the first twenty or so years of a person’s life. Exposure to the sun seems to increase the number of moles, and can also make them darker.

When a mole first forms, it is flat and looks a lot like a freckle, tan in color. They can also be pinkish, black, or brown, and as time passes moles will normally get bigger in area. Some moles develop hairs within them, some become raised, and others get lighter in color or fade away altogether. Congenital levi are moles that are present at birth, an occurrence that happens to one in one hundred infants. Large moles, present from the get-go, have a higher risk of turning cancerous; those bigger than four inches in diameter bear constant scrutiny as the years pass. At some point, moles this big may need to be removed to alleviate the risk of malignant melanoma, a deadly type of skin cancer. Atypical moles are moles that are larger than a quarter of an inch and irregular in shape. Atypical moles have a tendency to be hereditary and have a light exterior border with a darker brown middle. They go hand in hand with an elevated risk of skin cancer. A large number of moles on one person are also a potential red light as far as cancer is concerned.

If you develop a new mole as a young adult, notify your doctor so it can be examined to determine if there is a problem. People should have a skin examination every three years as a rule of thumb, so your physician can spot any irregularities, especially with moles. When a mole is suspected of being cancerous, a tissue sample will be taken from it and looked at. If the fear of cancer is proven true, it must be removed. Moles will generally not reappear once they are eliminated, but occasionally they can, which should make you head back to the doctor to have it once again eradicated. Doctors can take a mole off in different ways. Shave excision is the name for the procedure in which a mole is shaved off with a small blade after the area has been numbed. A punch biopsy describes an operation where the mole is removed with a small device similar to a cookie-cutter, and excisional surgery gets rid of the mole by cutting it out, along with a small area of skin around it. Almost all the time these procedures can be done in your doctor’s office.

Dermatologists have what they call the A-B-C-D method of examining moles to detect melanoma and skin cancers. The American Academy of Dermatology says that A is for Asymmetrical shape in moles, where one half of a mole differs greatly in shape from the other half. B stands for an irregular Border of a mole, when the outer edges of a mole are ragged, notched, or seem blurred. C means look for changes in Color, where the mole’s color is not uniform throughout, or it is multi-colored. D is for Diameter, with any mole bigger across than a pencil’s eraser raising a degree of alarm. Any mole that fits these categories should be checked by a doctor to rule out melanoma or skin cancer.

Irritation of a mole will not cause it to turn cancerous, so if it is in a location where it could be shaved over, it is safe to do so. For cosmetic reasons, some moles that contain hairs can be made less unsightly by clipping the hairs close to the surface or having them removed totally by means of electrolysis or a laser technique. Some moles can be covered or disguised with make-up if you do not want them removed, and there are special products on the market designed to make blemishes less noticeable. To lessen the possibility of moles becoming cancerous, try to avoid the time of day when the ultraviolet rays of the sun are most intense, usually from ten in the morning to four in the afternoon. Use proper sunscreen and follow the directions, and wear clothing that affords you protection from ultraviolet rays, such as long sleeves. If you cut a mole or it is subject to any type of trauma and fails to heal, see your physician at once, to be on the safe side.

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