It is quite normal to have a few moles on our skin. Most moles cause no problems, however with age or excessive exposure to sunlight, it is possible for new moles to appear or develop into a type of skin cancer known as melanoma. Malignant melanoma can kill, so it is a good idea to track any changes you find in your moles, and if you are worried you should always seek a medical opinion.
Certain changes in your moles can be a cause for concern. Be aware of the ABCDE of mole attributes so you can check your moles and get treatment when necessary. The earlier a problem is detected the better.
A stands for asymmetry. The shape of moles can be an indication that something is wrong. In general, a normal, harmless mole is a symmetrical round shape because it grows at an even rate in all directions. It would be advisable to check an asymmetrical mole, as melanoma grows unevenly and will not be round.
B stands for border, and a dangerous mole will often have a blurred or ragged border.
C is a reminder to look at the colour of moles. A melanoma will also tend to be uneven in colour, while a harmless mole is more consistent. Melanomas can comprise a variety of colours from black and brown to red and pink.
D is a call to look at the diameter of moles. It’s not an entirely accurate indicator, but melanomas are often larger than typical moles. They can also be smaller, which is why it always sensible to have any suspicious looking moles checked by a doctor. Beware if a mole starts growing, which brings us to E.
E stands for elevation and enlargement. Cancerous moles can signal their malignancy by getting larger, and for being raised in comparison with the rest of the skin. Signs of inflammation or swelling are further indicators that this mole needs to be assessed. The original mole can also remain largely the same, while the area underneath or around it is swollen or inflamed. Weeping, crusting and bleeding from a mole can also be signs that there is an issue which needs to be addressed.
The most frequent indication of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole, or changes in one you already have. Melanoma can appear on any part of the body, and are more common in areas which receive a lot of sun, such as the legs in women and backs in men. Melanoma can also be larger than other moles, be itchy or even bleed. The most common form of melanoma is the superficial spreading variety, which is more common in people with pale skin. If they spread outwards it is easier to treat, but if they penetrate to deeper layers of the skin and grow into the body, other organs can be affected.
Another type of melanoma is the nodular type. This type develops faster and can grow inwards to deeper skin layers if not treated. This type of melanoma usually looks like a lump that is black or red.
Melanoma also manifests in other forms and is one of the more common cancers in the UK, with more than 10,000 new cases annually and 2,000 deaths.