Are you worried that a particular mole in your body might be a cancerous melanoma? Melanoma is a type of skin cancer and unlike others that grow slowly, it progresses rapidly and readily spreads to other parts of the body. Generally caused by exposure to UV light and other such sources, it may also be a result of genetic factors. The pigment which gives skin its color (melanocyte) is the affected one as it undergoes mutation and forms a malignant tumor. Typically, men are affected on the back while women on their legs. In rare conditions, it might occur in the intestines, mouth or even on the eyes.
Unfortunately, melanomas look like moles and sometimes originate from moles within the body. It is only after a precise diagnosis through a biopsy the real nature of a mole is revealed.
It is distressing to think that one of the moles on the body might be a melanoma. It is similar to having a tattoo on your back with no opportunity to at least check. You become worried that the words might be misspelled, badly misplaced or written using questionable ink combinations. Save yourself from unnecessary worries by understanding the warning signs of melanoma and things that make it different from harmless moles.
Melanoma is fairly treatable in early stages but the difficulty increases with time and later stages. Thus, it is imperative to know anything and everything about this deadly disease.
What Normal Moles Should Look Like
People have moles somewhere in the body and in most cases these are harmless. It is normal for some moles to undergo some changes as years pass by. However, a dermatologist must check the moles that underwent noticeable changes. Anyway, normal moles have the following characteristics:
- Round or oval in shape
- No larger than a pencil eraser (less than 6 mm)
- Has regular, sharp and easily-defined borders
- Has an even color throughout
- Normal moles tend to resemble other moles on your body
Though a normal mole may be black or tan colored, it is not an apt factor to distinguish from melanoma as it also can be of any color including pink, red, brown or black. In some cases, moles may fade away or retain their original shape for a long time. But if there are any considerable changes to its shape, size or color, immediate medical attention should be sought.
What About Dysplastic Nevus?
A dysplastic nevus is a mole different from normal moles. They have the characteristics which are not typically found in normal moles. They are not oval or round in shape, have irregular borders and uneven color. They look much like melanoma lesions. Often called as ‘Atypical mole’ by doctors, a dysplastic nevi is usually bigger than a common mole (width is more than 5mm). They are normally found on the region near the waist, scalp or even breasts.
If you have dysplastic nevus, it is highly recommended to have them checked by a doctor frequently. Dysplastic nevi are not cancerous and most of them do not turn into a melanoma. However, dysplastic nevi are at a higher risk of turning into melanoma than normal skin moles. Doctors say that the people affected by more than 5 such dysplastic nevi are at a higher risk of developing skin cancer than people who have one or none.
Individuals with such a condition should avoid getting a tan or sunburn as it might alleviate the mole. Getting checked once in a while is highly advised.
ABCDE’s of Melanoma
If you wonder that a mole on your body might be a melanoma, then you should learn these warning signs. Melanoma in an early stage can be identified by this ABCDE mnemonic.
Normal moles typically do not exhibit the following signs. If you have a mole that has one or more of these characteristics, it might be a melanoma and a doctor or a dermatologist must be consulted immediately.
‘A’ stands for asymmetry
Normal moles are round or oval and have the same shape when divided into two equal halves. On the other hand, melanomas tend to have markedly irregular shapes. One half of the mole is not identical or symmetrical to the other half.
‘B’ stands for borders
Melanomas have poorly-defined borders and have edges that are usually blurred, ragged or notched. The colored pigment may spread and make an unusual shape around the skin.
‘C’ stands for color
Normal moles have differences in coloration compared to melanomas. Very dark moles and uneven colors are hallmark signs of melanomas. Melanomas tend to have shades of tan/brown or have areas colored in white, gray, red or even blue and pink. There may also be areas of white, pink, blue or gray amidst all this.
‘D’ stands for diameter
Harmless moles are small and usually remain that way throughout life. Many melanomas are larger than a pencil eraser, although some may be smaller. If you have a mole that seemingly became bigger overnight or within few days or weeks, have it checked by the doctor right away. In rare cases, melanoma can be even tiny but most are over 6mm in width.
‘E’ stands for evolving
Like Pokémon (cartoon), melanomas change or evolve over time. If you have a funny-looking mole that gives you laughs because it changes color, shape or size, it is probably a melanoma and should be checked right away. It might take weeks or some months to change but when there is any noticeable shape, a doctor should be consulted right away.
Note that you also have to be suspicious of moles that itch or become inflamed (red and swollen). Normal moles do not exhibit such characteristics. Also, you need to be more vigilant if you have one or more dysplastic nevi, at least 100 or more moles or have moles larger than a pencil eraser.
This ABCDE rule helps to identify many of the moles as they exhibit such features while some may show only one or two of them.