Are You Seeing Spots?
The average person has between 10 and 40 moles, though the number can vary
drastically. The number of moles that you have can change throughout your
life, as new moles can develop and some may disappear as you age. You
can develop moles almost anywhere on your body, including your scalp and
underneath your fingernails.
What Are They and Where Do They Come From?
Moles are small, colored spots made of melanocytes, which are cells that
make the pigment of your skin. Usually these cells are evenly distributed
across your skin, but moles appear when these cells occur in clusters,
causing small areas of your skin to darken.
Should I Be Worried?
Though most moles are harmless, it is important to keep an eye on them
in case they develop into abnormal moles, called dysplastic nevi, that
have the possibility of becoming cancerous. It isn’t as hard as
you might think to sharpen your skin-detective skills and solve your own
You should visit a dermatologist yearly for a routine full-body skin examination.
Your dermatologist will closely examine any moles on your skin and will
likely biopsy any suspicious-looking growths.
In between your annual examinations, you should also complete self-examinations,
to watch for any changes to your skin and to assist in early detection
of skin cancer, so that you can alert your doctor if there are any changes.
Use Your ABCDE’s
Use the ABCDE method to remember what to check for:
A – Asymmetry (Healthy moles tend to be symmetrical, so look for any
moles that are not.)
B – Border Irregularity (The borders of a mole with early melanoma
tend to be irregular and can have scalloped or notched edges.)
C – Color Change (Let your doctor know if the color of your mole changes.
Any mole with a multiple colors is also a warning sign.)
D – Diameter (Watch out for any moles larger than a pencil eraser
(1/4 inch or 6mm), as melanomas tend to be larger.)
E – Evolving (Always look for any changes to your moles, in size,
shape, color, or any irritation. Evolving moles need to be watched closely.)
Though most are harmless, some moles can develop into melanoma, or skin
cancer. Melanomas often appear suddenly and are dark and fast-growing.
You should also let your doctor know if you have a mole that is painful,
itching, burning, inflamed, oozing, or bleeding, as these symptoms can
also be a sign of melanoma.
Where to Look?
When you do your self-examination, make sure you check your entire body,
as moles can appear anywhere. Don’t forget to check around your
ears, scalp, and underarms; underneath breasts, buttocks and genitals;
the bottoms of your feet, between toes, and under your nails. Don’t
forget to remove any polish before doing a self-exam or visiting your
Protect Your Skin!
To protect your skin and avoid skin cancer, particularly if you have several
moles, it is crucial to be extra careful in the sun. Avoiding overexposure
to UV light can reduce your chances of developing melanoma.
Tips for Healthy Skin
- Stay in the shade between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when UV rays are strongest
- Wear a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your face
- Wear SPF 15 or higher sunscreen, and reapply every few hours and after swimming
- Avoid tanning beds
If you need to visit a dermatologist,
Mary Washington Medical Group Dermatology is conveniently located on the Mary Washington Hospital campus. You can
also call Health Link at 540.741.1404 to find a dermatologist near you.