A study published in the American Society of Clinical Oncology said that melanoma is the 5th most common cancer among men and the 6th among women.
The same publication also mentioned that melanoma accounts for 1% of skin cancers in the United States but caused the most skin cancer deaths.
Thankfully, this kind of cancer, if detected early, is almost always curable. Thus, the best form of prevention is for you to know the early signs of melanoma and be able to differentiate a normal from a malignant mole.
Here are some of the distinguishing characteristics that you should watch out for between normal and malignant moles.
The most basic ways of checking for signs of malignancy in moles are these letters:
A – Asymmetry
A normal mole will appear symmetrical. A test of symmetry is if you imagine that you draw a line in the middle of the mole and both halves look alike in shape and size. If your mole is like this, then you can heave a sigh of relief. If both halves do not match in shape and size, it is a warning sign.
B – Border
Borders are smooth for normal moles. Their edges are distinct from the skin surrounding them. For malignant moles, the borders are uneven and irregular. They may also be malignant if there appear some sort of extensions from the border of the lesion.
C – Color
Normal moles have one color which is often a single shade of pink, tan, brown or black. A variety of colors and shades of white, red, pink, or blue that appears in the mole is also a warning signal that you should watch out for.
D – Diameter
Normal or benign moles have smaller diameters than malignant ones. Normal moles are approximately 5 millimeters in diameter. The common reference would be the eraser found on your pencil tip. Melanomas usually measure more or less 6 millimeters in diameter.
E – Evolving
Benign moles look the same over time. Malignant ones change. This change may be in size, shape, color, and thickness.
To better have a way of checking your mole, below is a table summary of your checklist:
|Asymmetrical||Halves both alike||Halves do not look alike|
|Border||Clean and Smooth||Uneven and Irregular|
|Color||Single shade||Variety of Colors and Shade|
|Diameter||Small||More or less 6 millimeters in diameter|
|Evolving||No change in time||Changes in shape, size, color, and thickness|
Other Symptoms to Watch Out For
Moles may be malignant especially if there are bleeding, itchiness, and crusting of the mole. It is already a danger sign and you must see a doctor immediately. Oozing and ulceration of the mole is also another indicator that is a cause for serious concern.
A mole that becomes hard or lumpy is also something to watch out for. If the mole is an odd-man-out among the other moles on your body, pay attention to it.
A person has about 10 to 40 moles which fade in time. Melanoma, on the other hand, is not classified as a mole. It looks like one, but it may develop into cancer.
Recent Studies on Benign and Malignant Moles
Some studies have suggested that if you have more than 50 moles in your body, you are more susceptible to developing melanoma in one of the moles. Interestingly, a recent study published by JAMA Dermatology, says otherwise.
The study revealed that doctors and patients should not rely on the total mole count to determine if one is at risk of melanoma.
A study that was published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology (JEADV) further suggested ways of determining if a mole is benign or malignant. The research concluded that at the onset of suspicion that a mole is malignant, the conduct of biopsy or other diagnostic tools must be performed on the lesion.
Who are at Risk of Getting Melanoma
Melanoma is curable if detected in its early stages. For better protection, it is better to know who are those at risk of getting it. Knowing the risk will keep you on guard and prevent melanoma from getting worse.
The risk factors are the following:
- You are fair skinned.
- You get sunburn easily.
- You are a male.
- You have red or light colored hair.
- You are aged 45 and above. Although there have been studies that it can occur as early as 30 years old.
- Women aged 30 and above are more susceptible to developing melanoma.
- For men, melanoma often develops on the areas of the head, neck, chest, and back.
- For women, melanoma often develops at the back, face, and on the lower legs.
- You have a family history of skin cancer.
- You are unable to get a tan.
- You have intermittent high sun exposure.
- You develop freckles after overexposure to the sun.
- You have had an organ transplant.
Prevention is better than cure, as the saying goes. These are some of the ways you can prevent melanoma from developing.
- Be aware of changes in your body especially your moles.
- Examine the moles on your body once a month.
- Do not go under the sun between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun’s UV rays are at its peak.
- Never use tanning beds and sun lamps.
- Use sunscreen when you go out. SPF 15 or higher will be a good protection from the UV rays.
- If you intend to stay longer under the sun, use water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunblock with SPF 30 or higher.
- Have a physical check-up once a year or when you see fit.
- Wear protective clothing like long-sleeved shirts, pants, wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses.
- Some fabrics have rated ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). Choose the one with higher UPF for better protection.
- Stay away from high reflective environments like water, sand, snow, ice, pavement, and glass. These reflective environments amplify the sun’s UV rays.
- Prevent getting sunburns especially among children. It will increase the child’s risk of developing melanoma later in life.
- Have a good dose of vitamin D by eating healthy and by taking vitamin D supplements.
- Do not engage in activities that may weaken your immune system.
Removal of the mole is not advisable for malignant ones. However, dermatologists do suggest removal of unsightly but benign moles or skin tags.
There are four suggested ways of removing unsightly moles. First is by excision with stitches. Second is shave excision. The third is by freezing. Fourth is by laser removal.
“In case you want to remove your unsightly mole, you can go to a licensed skin specialist. He or she can provide you with the proper guidance and recommendations on when to pay for a mole removal surgery.”
The sun, the sea, and the outdoors are exciting and enjoyable activity areas. These are also the places where the concentration of UV rays is most damaging.
It is impossible to tell you to stay away from these places. So, the best way is to do things in moderation with enough prevention. This way, you can enjoy what nature has to offer without exposing yourself to the risk of developing this type of cancer.
Written By: Kathy Corneilia Matthews