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.
Most people would not however wish to have all the moles on their skin removed for cosmetic reasons. Neither would this prevent the onset of melanoma, which can develop afresh.
This is why mole screening is dedicated to spotting new moles, along with changes in others. Both scenarios can offer visible signs of a skin cancer called malignant melanoma.
Melanomas are a danger to health, a form of skin cancer able to spread within your body. They can appear in the mouth, eye, or internally but by far the most common place for melanoma is on your skin.
The greatest safeguard you have is awareness, as early treatment is vital. Alongside screening, self checking is useful, for new moles, or unwanted changes in existing moles:
- Asymmetry – The shape of one half does not match the other.
- 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 the edges.
- Evolving – A mole notably changes over weeks, or months.
Having a partner assist where you can’t see is valuable. The ABCDE guide above offers pointers 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, neither should they be a total substitute for screening.
Scientific Mole Monitoring
With skin cancer 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 London clinics, at a reasonable cost.
Skin cancer screening in reality tends to reduce cost, with less treatment needed due to early detection. Mole monitoring is a leading element, with early diagnosis 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, using up to date technology.
Most screening is by nature wider body imaging, although if the focus is on smaller areas, perhaps progress monitoring, a hand held dermoscope could be a solution. A specialist microscope combined with a powerful light, able to capture detailed images, or video.
All screening procedures are pain free, quick and provide immediate results. A short appointment apart, you will be able to carry on with your day as normal.
- Total Body Dermoscopy – State of the art microscopic imaging, often combined with laser based, confocal microscopy, to look deeper. For screening, or ongoing diagnosis, whilst reducing biopsies and risk of scarring: Digital Dermoscopy →
- Digital Mole Mapping – Specialist equipment uses a form of high definition photography, to record and compare mole patterns over time. Popular with all patients, not least those with familial factors, or a larger number of moles: Mole Mapping →
- 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 →
- Principles Of Screening – Although different programs can seem similar, there are notable differences and tailoring an approach to your needs, or known risks matters. You are welcome to see further details on our: Skin Cancer Screening →
Risk Factors For Melanoma
Your screening program can look at different skin cancers, certain risk factors apply across conditions. Those below focus on moles and diagnosing melanoma, 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 dysplastic naevi (multi-coloured).
- New moles appearing in adulthood, or unusual changes to any existing moles.
There are other factors, mutations in cell growth genes can play a part, or severe sunburn at any time in life. Medication designed to suppress the immune system increases the possibility of melanoma.
Whilst Caucasian people are more susceptible, those with dark skin can have melanoma. Possibly on their skin, or lighter areas, under toenails, or fingernails, on the palms of hands, or soles of their feet.
Congenital moles (present at birth) also bring a slightly higher risk and whilst melanoma is unusual in children, this is not unknown. We offer specialist care for paediatric melanoma and screening.
A Beneficial Approach
Monitoring moles in the shorter term can be valuable, even during treatment. Longer term, a process called sequential digital dermoscopy imaging (SDDI) often plays a part, to pick up changes.
Either approach can help a consultant deduce whether a mole is benign, or in need of immediate treatment. There are still grey areas and reaching for a scalpel to be “safe” need not be the answer.
However carefully executed, removal can cause scarring, perhaps in a cosmetically sensitive area. Neither do we believe that patients should be subjected to surgical procedures where avoidable.
If a mole has atypical features but not enough to be sure the growth is cancerous, mole monitoring offers a safe alternative. Within this are procedures, such as confocal microscopy, designed to be a digital alternative to surgical biopsy.
Our hope is always that from specific tissue examination, or wider mole monitoring, the result will be positive but if not, you have the advantage of early melanoma diagnosis.
When detected early and at minimal depth, cure rates approach 100%. If allowed to grow, perhaps spread within your body, that is not the case.
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.
With Skin Care Network clinics at Chelsea and Barnet, mole monitoring in London is not far away for most residents. Consultant dermatologists with dermoscopy skills are available at both.
Whether a personal choice, recommended by your doctor, or consultant, mole monitoring offers reassurance and diagnostic accuracy.
Whilst adding pictures of varying moles was tempting, we felt this could 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, or wish to take part in a common sense screening program, please talk to our friendly staff.