All About Moles
Fact: Your chance of developing a skin cancer is far greater than any other cancer. There are three common malignant skin cancers: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and Melanoma. The latter is the most dangerous form of skin cancer yet the most preventable. The Canadian Dermatology Association reports that the lifetime risk of melanoma for men is now 1 in 74, and 1 in 90 for women. Keeping this in mind, here are 6 tips from our go-to dermatologist Dr. Lisa Kellett for how to detect malignant Melanoma and other skin cancers.
1. Make it monthly. Check your skin every month on the first day of the month. This way you will always remember and skin cancers will be found earlier.
2. Examine everywhere. The best way to examine your skin for any new moles is to take off all of your clothes and stand in front of a full-length mirror. Check all of your skin including the backs of your legs, palms and soles and general area.
3. Ch-ch-ch-changes. In addition to looking for new moles, look for or a change in moles. You are looking for a change in size, shape, colour or border. Here’s a cheat sheet:
4. Salon sleuth. The prognosis for skin cancer on the head and neck is worse than on other areas of the body. Since it is difficult to check your head by yourself, ask your hairdresser to check your scalp for you. This is best done when your hair is just about dry using a hair dryer to spread the hair.
5. Ruler and camera. If you have moles on your back or areas that you can’t see make your own mole map. Take a picture of any mole with a ruler under it to document the size and characteristics of the mole. You now have a baseline picture to reference later with your monthly skin checks.
6. Derm date. Consult a Dermatologist early. The earlier a skin cancer is found the better the outcome so see a dermatologist for a proper full body skin exam once a year or sooner if there is a concern. When melanoma is caught early (when the tumour is thin and has not spread to lymph nodes) it is highly curable by surgical removal.
Watch this video with Dr. Kellett sharing extra preventative tips.
Methods of Mole Removal
Shave excision: The mole and area around it are numbed with anesthetic and then a scalpel or razor blade is used to cut the mole off at surface level. Since the root of the mole remains below surface level, there is the possibility of regrowth. This method generally gives the best cosmetic result and requires no stiches. A flat, white mark is usually left in its place.
Cutting: The mole and area around it are numbed with anesthetic and then a scalpel is used to cut out the mole and root completely. Stitches are used to seal the wound. This method removes almost all chance of recurrence but a small scar may remain as a result of the incision size.
Laser: A laser light beam is directed at the mole and absorbed by its pigment, causing the tissue cells to heat up and break apart. Because laser mole removal seals blood vessels, there is no need for stitches. This method is rarely recommended as it does not penetrate deep enough to destroy the mole root and because the surface tissue of the mole is completely destroyed, it is impossible to have the mole tissue biopsied.
Cryosurgery (freezing): Liquid nitrogen is applied to the mole, freezing it, which then causes it to blister and fall off within several days. This method is rarely recommended as it destroys the mole tissue preventing it from being biopsied.
These at-home methods of mole removal are a bad idea and could leave you with scarring, irritation, and unable to detect the first signs of skin cancer. Whatever you do, do not:
- Bleach it. It’s important to monitor the true colour of your mole in order to detect any precancerous symptoms.
- Cut it. it’s important to monitor the shape and size of your mole in order to detect any precancerous symptoms.
- Tie it off. While this may remove the protrusion, it leaves the base of the mole beneath the skin’s surface and makes it very difficult for a medical professional to assess and monitor.
Remember, keep your mitts off your mole! Leave mole removal to a medical professional.
Types of Moles
Congenital nevi: These are moles that appear at birth. Congenital nevi occur in about one in 100 people. These moles, particularly giant nevi, may be more likely to develop into melanoma (cancer) than are moles that appear after birth.
Dysplastic (atypical) nevi: These are moles that are larger than average (larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape, colour, and even border. People with dysplastic nevi may have more than 100 moles and have a greater chance of developing melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer.
Spitz nevi: These moles generally appear in juveniles and are typically under 1cm in diameter, firm, raised and pink or reddish-brown in colour. They may even bleed or ooze. Though they are not dangerous, they so closely resemble melanoma that they are difficult to differentiate and require an excisional biopsy to confirm diagnosis.
Acquired (common) nevi: These are moles that develop during a person’s lifetime, after birth. The common mole tends to be small, have uniform pigmentation, and defined edges. Though considered benign, people with more than 50 acquired moles have an increased risk of developing melanoma.