Monitoring Your Moles

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, with 200 million new cases in the United States annually, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation (2010). However, when detected early, it is also the most treatable. Monitoring your moles can help you to recognize any suspicious changes or new growths, which can be reported to your doctor for further examination.

Doctor Examinations of Skin Moles

Annual examinations by a dermatologist or other physician can identify potentially cancerous moles or growths. Individuals with a personal or family history of skin cancer may be advised to be checked more frequently. The same is true for people with atypical mole syndrome, a condition in which a person has more than 100 moles, some of which are atypical in appearance and size.

Some doctors may also use body-imaging scans to check for skin moles. The scans can track changes in your skin from visit to visit. Furthermore, certain body-imaging scans can also determine how deep a mole’s growth is.

Skin Self-Exams

Performing regular self-exams is important for early detection and treatment of skin cancer. Both the Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Cancer Society recommend performing monthly skin self-exams. Stand in front of a full-length mirror in a well-lit room. Examine your body systematically, so you see all parts of your skin. Use hand mirrors to see moles on skin of the scalp and back. Areas to examine include:

  • Between toes
  • Face, neck and ears
  • Hands and palms
  • Scalp
  • Soles of feet
  • Torso, legs and arms (front and back).

Everyone has moles, so how do you know which are normal, and which are not? The ABCDE rule can be used to evaluate your moles and determine which are typical, and which pose a cause for concern. The ABCDE rule breaks down as follows:

  • A is for asymmetry: One half appears different than the other
  • B is for borders: Irregular or poorly defined
  • C is for color: More than one shade on one mole
  • D is for diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser
  • E is for evolving: Mole’s appearance changes over time.

If any of your existing moles take on these characteristics from one exam to the next, tell your doctor. In addition to abnormal moles, be sure to report any other suspicious-looking lesions, such as a rough patch or sore that will not heal. These might also be signs of skin cancer, or of a precancerous lesion, such as an actinic keratosis.

I Have an Atypical Skin Lesion. Now What?

When a suspicious growth appears, your doctor will likely recommend a biopsy to help determine whether it is cancerous. A biopsy is a surgical procedure in which a sample of tissue from the mole or lesion is removed. This tissue is then examined under a microscope to confirm the presence of cancerous cells. If cancer is found, your doctor can recommend an appropriate course of treatment, which often involves some type of surgical excision of the growth.

Resources

American Cancer Society. (2010). Skin protection and early detection. Retrieved July 5, 2010, from http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/cid/documents/webcontent/003184-pdf.pdf

Science Learning. (2007). Imaging skin moles. Retrieved July 7, 2010, from http://www.sciencelearn.org.nz/Contexts/See-through-Body/Looking-closer/Imaging-skin-moles

The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2010). Dysplastic nevi (atypical moles). Retrieved July 5, 2010, from http://www.skincancer.org/dysplastic-nevi-atypical-moles.html

The Skin Cancer Foundation. (2010). Self-examination: If you spot it you can stop it. Retrieved July 5, 2010, from http://skincancer.org/Self-Examination/