Dr Stevens explains factors relating to familial skin cancers and the importance of seeking advice on changing moles.
Melanocytes are cells in the lower part of your skin, which produce melanin for skin colour. A mole is a growth on your body caused when melanocytes grow in clusters.
This may sound like an abnormality but almost all of us have a few moles, 10 to 30 is quite common. You can be born with moles, although they tend to grow during childhood and adolescence.
Moles can darken as you grow, or fade away as you get older. In the majority of cases, both the moles and changes to them are harmless, although in certain cases there are medical implications.
Moles & Your Health
Moles can be a nuisance, for shaving, dressing, aesthetic reasons. Mole removal is rarely a difficult procedure and our dermatologists will help.
Simply bear in mind that removing all the moles on your skin may not prevent the onset of melanoma, which can develop afresh. Neither would many people wish to go to this length for cosmetic reasons.
Of greater importance is the health risk a proportion of moles represent. They can be a visible sign of a skin cancer called malignant melanoma, a dangerous condition able to spread to other parts of your body.
Melanomas develops from the pigment supplying melanocyte cells. There are cases where they can appear in the mouth, eye, or internally but by far the most common place for melanoma to appear is on your skin.
The greatest safeguard you have against melanoma is awareness and there are symptoms to watch out for within your moles:
- Asymmetry – The shape of one half does not match the other half.
- Border – Outer edges turn irregular, ragged, or appear blurred.
- Color – An uneven colour develops, irrespective of the colours.
- Diameter – Sudden growth in mole size around any of the edges.
- Evolving – A mole notably changes over a few weeks, or months.
Checking your own moles, perhaps having a partner help where you can’t see, is valuable. The ABCDE guide above assists and has helped people detect melanoma early, although there are further points to consider.
Changes in moles may be subtle and could be missed. If variations are seen, understanding their meaning can be difficult for doctors, let alone an untrained eye. Self checks are an excellent idea but specialist opinion is then needed.
Scientific Mole Monitoring
With skin cancers growing at a faster rate than any other form of cancer, screening programs make sense. The NHS does not offer skin screening but this is available at our clinics, at a reasonable cost.
Skin cancer screening in reality tends to reduce cost, by reducing treatment when needed due to early detection. More importantly, an early diagosis is the key to success in dealing with melanoma.
Our consultants will recommend the best form of monitoring for your case, or if you simply wish to stay safe. The screening programs are available in formats to suit:
- Digital Mole Mapping – Specialist equipment uses a form of microscopic digital photography, to record and compare mole patterns over time. Popular with all patients, not least those with familial factors, or many moles: Mole Mapping →
- Bespoke Skin Cancer Screening – An individual screening program, for people who may be at specific risk. Perhaps family traits again, a number of atypical moles, previous conditions, or high exposure to the sun: Bespoke Screening →
- Short Term Mole Monitoring – In many cases, this uses a technique called sequential digital dermoscopy and is part of your treatment. To offer an ongoing, defined diagnosis, whilst reducing biopsies and scarring: Short Term Monitoring →
- Annual Skin Cancer Checks – There is no national screening programme partly due to their being no instant test. The best way to monitor your skin for many conditions is a visual inspection by an experienced specialist: Annual Skin Checks →
Risk Factors For Melanoma
In the same way that the final screening program takes in different skin cancers, risk factors can apply across conditions. Those below still focus on moles and melanoma, as much of our screening does.
Melanoma is the most serious of skin cancers and you should take note if you have:
- A family history of melanoma, or previous personal incidence.
- Above average lifetime sun exposure, a prime cause of melanoma.
- A large number of moles, or several dysplastic naevi (multi-coloured).
- New moles appearing in adulthood, or unusual changes to any existing moles.
There are other factors, mutations in genes related to cell growth can play a part, or severe sunburn at any time of life. Medication designed to supress the immune system increases the possibility of melanoma.
Whilst caucasian people are more susceptible, those with dark skin can have melanoma. Possibly on the skin itself, or lighter areas, under the fingernails, or toenails, on the palms of their hands, or soles of their feet.
Congenital moles (present at birth) bring a slightly higher risk and whilst melanoma is unusual in children, this is not unknown.
Monitoring Children’s Moles
If your child is born with moles, or they develop within the first two years, a fair chance you will have been referred to a dermatologist for monitoring.
If not, this is a good idea. We don’t want to cause concern to anyone and melanoma in childhood is rare, although in teenage years, the incidence does increase.
As with an adult, a specialist should examine any mole on a child’s skin which is changing quickly, differs notably from others, develops an irregular border, or starts to bleed, or look like more like a sore.
Where a child develops an unusual number of moles, or one giant mole, they should be under a dermatologist’s care. With this in place, early detection of issues is available and lifetime advice on staying safe.
Support From Skin Care Network
We hope the information above has provided a background to moles on your body, how normal they generally are and the risks posed when they do not remain normal.
Whilst adding pictures of varying moles was tempting, we felt this could also be misleading. The difference between a normal mole and a dangerous one can be tiny, hard to pick up with the naked eye.
A combination of the latest technology and experience from a consultant specialising in skin cancer treatment is the best solution. To give you peace of mind, or the early intervention which is so critical.
If you are concerned about moles on your body, or wish to take part in a common sense screening program, please talk to our friendly staff.