Telling whether an odd looking mole is a melanoma is a real challenge. In fact, the only sure way to know is with a biopsy. But, before you get them all cut out, there are signs and symptoms that can help you and your doctor to make the right decision.
According to the National Cancer Institute there are three main kinds of moles you need to know about: a common mole, a dysplastic mole, and a melanoma.
A common mole is a small growth on the skin usually found above the waist on areas exposed to the sun, and rarely found on the scalp, breast, or buttocks. If you have more than 50 common moles you have a greater chance of developing melanoma. That said, most common moles do not turn into melanoma.
They are usually smaller than about 5 millimeters wide, just less than the width of a pencil eraser. They are round or oval, have a smooth surface with a distinct edge, and can be dome-shaped. They usually have an even pink, tan, or brown colour. People who have dark skin or hair tend to have darker moles than people with fair skin or blonde hair. Below are a few photos of common moles:
A dysplastic mole is an unusual mole that is often large and flat and does not have a symmetric round or oval shape. It is usually more than 5 millimeters wide. The edge is often indistinct. It may have a mixture of pink, tan, or brown shades. People who have many dysplastic moles have an increased chance of developing melanoma. Again, most dysplastic moles do not turn into melanoma. Some examples are shown below:
This dysplastic mole has a raised area at the center that doctors may call a “fried egg” appearance.
This dysplastic mole is more than 5 millimeters in diameter.
This dysplastic mole is more than 10 millimetres in diameter.
Dysplastic moles can occur anywhere on the body, and although are usually seen in areas exposed to the sun, they can occur on unexposed areas. People with dysplastic moles usually also have a large number of common moles. There is a risk that a dysplastic mole could turn into a melanoma, but most don’t and remain stable over time. However, according to statistics, the risk of melanoma is over 10 times greater for those with more than five dysplastic moles. If you have dysplastic moles doctors recommend checking once a month for any changes, and for people with over 5, they should be photographed every 3 months. A photograph is the best way to check for change in a mole.
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that begins in melanocytes. It spreads quickly and the earlier that melanoma is detected and removed, the more likely that treatment will be successful. A melanoma can develop from an existing mole, or appear as a new lesion. If the colour, size, shape, or height of a mole changes or if it starts to itch, bleed, or ooze, you should tell you doctor. In men melanoma is often found on the head, neck, or back. In women, it is found on the back or lower legs.
People with dark skin are much less likely than people with fair skin to develop melanoma. When it does develop in people with dark skin, it is often found under the fingernails, under the toenails, on the palms of the hands, or on the soles of the feet.
The first sign of melanoma is a often change in the shape, colour, size, or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma can also appear as a new mole.
The best way to identify a melanoma is to know whether it has changed.Which is what we do here at Skin Analytics. But if you’re worried about a particular mole right now, you should not wait till it changes.
The best way to tell if you need to see the doctor, is to use the ABCDEs of melanoma:
Here are some photos of melanomas. Compare them to the common moles and dysplastic moles and see if you can spot the difference using the ABCDE technique.
Asymmetric, uneven border, uneven colour, diameter is 20mm.
Asymmetric, uneven border, uneven colour, diameter is 12mm
A new dysplastic mole with a black bump that was not there 18 months earlier. The black bump is a melanoma that is about 3 millimeters wide.
A melanoma with three parts—a dark brown or black area on the left, a red bump on the right, and an area that is lighter than the skin at the top. The melanoma is about 15 millimeters wide, or about as wide as a tube of lip balm.
In advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change. The skin on the surface may break down and look scraped. It may become hard or lumpy. The surface may ooze or bleed. Sometimes the melanoma is itchy, tender, or painful.
We’ve given you a lot of information: here’s a great summary of all the important information from the National Cancer Institute. Remember, its important to check your skin regularly, melanoma is curable if you catch it early!