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Identifying Types of Moles

What is a common mole?

A common mole is a skin growth that develops when pigment cells (melanocytes) grow in clusters. Most adults have between 10 and 40 such moles. They are usually found on areas that receive most sun exposure.

They can appear at birth, but usually appear later in childhood and continue to develop until age 20. They tend to fade away in older people.

A common mole is usually smaller than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser). It is round or oval and has a smooth surface with a distinct edge. It is often dome-shaped. People with darker skin tend to have darker moles than people with fair skin.

Can a common mole become a melanoma?

Yes, but a common mole rarely turns into melanoma. However, people with more than 50 common moles have an increased risk of developing melanoma, which is why it is essential to have regular dermatological exams.

Dysplastic nevus

Dysplastic nevus.

What is a dysplastic nevus?

A dysplastic nevus looks different than the common mole. It may be bigger and its color, surface and border may be different. It is usually larger than 6mm, but can be smaller. It can be a mixture of several colors, from pink to dark brown. It is usually flat with a smooth, scaly or pebbly surface. It has an irregular edge that can face into surrounding skin.

Like a common mole, it is usually seen on areas exposed to the sun. Unlike a common mole, however, it can also be present on areas not exposed to the sun, like the scalp, breasts and areas below the waist. People with dysplastic nevi usually have more common moles as well.

Can a dysplastic nevus turn into melanoma?

Yes, but most do not, remaining stable over time. However, researchers estimate that the chance of melanoma is about 10 times greater for someone with more than five dysplastic nevi than someone who has none. Dysplastic nevi are categorized into mild, moderate or severe categories.

What should you do if you have dysplastic nevi?

Protect your skin from the sun and by no means use sunlamps or tanning booths. Doctors recommend that you check your skin once a month and consult your dermatologist with concerns.

For people with more than five dysplastic nevi, your dermatologist may conduct a skin exam once or twice a year because of the increased chance of melanoma.

What is melanoma?

Melanoma

A melanoma patch.

Melanoma is a skin cancer that begins in melanocytes. It is dangerous because it can spread to other parts of the body, including the lung, liver, bone and brain. The earlier it is detected and removed, the more likely the treatment will be successful.

In men, it is often found on the head, neck or back. In women, it is often found on the legs or lower legs. People will dark skin are less likely to develop melanoma, but when they do, it can be found under the fingernails and toenails, on the palms of the hands and on the soles of the feet.

Melanoma sometimes runs in families, and if you’ve had melanoma before, your risk is heightened for developing more. Long term sun exposure, use of tanning beds and severe, blistering sunburns also increase your risk.

What does melanoma look like?

One of the first signs is a change in the shape, size or feel of an existing mole. It can also appear as a new colored area on the skin. They’re usually uneven in color, with shades of black, brown and tan. They may also have areas of gray, red, pink or blue. They are irregularly shaped, and the surface texture can be hard or lumpy or ooze and bleed.

There’s an “ABCDE” rule that describes the features of early melanoma:

  • Asymmetry. The shape of one half does not match the other half.
  • Border that is irregular. The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
  • Color that is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.
  • Diameter. There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than 6 millimeters wide (about 1/4 inch wide).
  • Evolving. The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.

How is melanoma diagnosed?

The only way to diagnose melanoma is to remove tissue and check for cancer cells. Usually, this procedure only takes a few minutes and can be done in your doctor’s office.

If any mole changes in size, shape or color or becomes symptomatic (starts burning, itching, causing pain or bleeding), contact your dermatologist to schedule an exam. They are the only professionals that have the expertise to diagnose using a hand-held magnification device.

If you have concerns about moles, call DeSilva Dermatology at (830) 331-4150 to schedule a consultation today.

Information provided by the National Cancer Institute.

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