How Do You Know if a Mole is Skin Cancer?

Jory Cross by Jory Cross | Licensed since 2012

This article was updated on: 08/24/2018

What is a mole?

A mole on the skin occurs when pigment cells grow in clusters, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). Most adults have at least ten and up to forty moles. Moles usually occur above the waist on areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, arms, chest, and back. In older people, moles sometimes fade away. A common mole is usually smaller than the width of a pencil eraser and is round or oval shaped. A mole is usually an even brown, pink, or tan color.

How can you recognize skin cancer moles?

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends a head to toe skin self-exam every month to identify cancerous and precancerous spots. According to the NIH, common moles are generally not cancerous but people who have more than 50 common moles have an increased chance of developing melanoma. Melanoma, a form of cancer that begins is the cells that make the pigment melanin, is the most serious type of skin cancer according to NIH. A common mole can, in some rare cases, turn into melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanomas often look like moles. This is why you should be careful not to dismiss a skin cancer spot as a common mole.

According to the NIH, watch for the following changes in a possible skin cancer mole and tell you doctor if you notice them:

  • Color changes
  • Changes in size, shape, texture or height
  • A mole that starts to itch
  • A mole that bleeds or oozes

The NIH also advises on the ABCDE rule to describe the features of melanoma.

  • A =asymmetry (the two halves do not match shape)
  • B = border that is irregular (edges are not round)
  • C = color that is uneven
  • D = diameter (most melanomas are larger than ¼ inch wide)
  • E =evolving (the skin cancer spot has changed in the last few weeks or months)

How do you treat a skin cancer spot?

According to the NIH, doctors usually only remove moles that have changed. It is not necessary to have most common moles removed since very few turn into melanoma. Also, removing moles does not prevent new colored areas on the skin from developing. If your doctor suspects you have melanoma, he will diagnose it by removing tissue and sending it to a lab for a pathologist to look at. Early-stage melanomas can be often treated with surgery according to the American Cancer Society. Later-stage cancers may require other treatments including:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Immunotherapy

Do you have questions about Medicare coverage of skin cancer?

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