How to Tell a Healthy Mole from Cancer
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S. Though most moles on the body are harmless, skin cancer can look very similar to a mole. It’s important to know how to identify when something on your skin isn’t right. There are also steps you can take to reduce your risk.
Moles appear on the body when clusters of cells gather in one area, instead of spreading apart. They are often small and appear darker than the rest of the skin. Most moles are no cause for concern. In fact, most people have between 10 and 40 moles. Although they can grow at any point in life, most moles appear at birth and in young kids, as well as young adults. Pre-existing moles can also darken or become more noticeable from sun exposure.
More Sun, More Moles
The best way to avoid moles, especially those that can be cancerous, is to protect yourself from the sun. Catching rays is great for getting some vitamin D. However, too much sun exposure can be dangerous. You can still enjoy the outdoors by making a conscious effort to keep yourself safe. Some ways to stay safe in the sun include:
- Always wear sunscreen with at least 30 SPF. Make sure to reapply every two hours.
- Choose a daily face lotion with SPF.
- Limit sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest.
- When you are in the sun, wear hats and other clothes that cover your skin.
- Find shade. If you’re at the beach or pool, choose a seat under an umbrella or canopy.
How to Identify a Healthy Mole from Cancer
Most moles are benign, meaning they are harmless and do not cause cancer. However, sometimes, moles grow and become malignant. This means they are cancerous and must be removed. It is important to keep an eye on all moles. Detecting malignant moles in their early stages of growth can help catch skin cancers, like:
- Basal cell carcinoma
- Squamous cell carcinoma
“When monitoring your moles, look for color, shape and size,” explains Dr. Zeeshan Tariq, a medical oncologist at Bronson Oncology & Hematology Specialists. “These are some of the most common triggers for spotting an abnormal mole.” Dr. Tariq suggests using the simple ABCDE guide for spotting potentially malignant moles, which can signal skin cancer:
A healthy mole is symmetrical. This means the left and right side look alike.
A healthy mole has even borders. This means that the edges are clean and form a circle or oval shape.
Healthy moles are all the same color – usually a shade of brown. If a mole is unhealthy, it might be black or many different colors.
Healthy moles are usually smaller than 6 mm across. This is about the size of a pencil eraser.
Healthy moles do not change in size, shape or color. If you notice a mole is getting bigger, changing shapes or getting darker than normal, this could be a sign of a malignant mole.
Get Your Moles Checked Out
Spotting unhealthy moles can help detect skin cancer early. If you notice a mole that doesn’t seem normal, it’s important to get it looked at right away by your primary care doctor or a dermatologist. Don’t wait for more advanced symptoms to present themselves, such as pain, itching, swelling or oozing. Don’t have a primary care doctor? Call a Bronson Care Advisor at (269) 341-7788 or visit bronsonhealth.com/careadvisor.
Treating Cancerous Moles
If caught early enough, surgery to remove the malignant mole may be the only treatment you need. If the cancer has grown and/or spread beyond the skin, you may need more advanced care – like chemotherapy or radiation.
Bronson Cancer Centers - located in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo - offer a comprehensive approach to care that surrounds with the expertise, technology, resources and positivity that you and your family need for your cancer journey. Learn more about Bronson's regional cancer program, including our nationally-recognized center in Battle Creek, at bronsonhealth.com/cancer.