August 4, 2012 in Features, Health

Irregular moles should be monitored

Anthony L. Komaroff Universal Uclick

DEAR DOCTOR K: I have many moles, some flat, some raised. Should I be worried about them?

DEAR READER: Yes, you should. I worry about mine.

Everyone has moles. They usually appear during childhood or adolescence. Most moles never become a problem, but sometimes they can become cancerous, causing a potentially deadly skin cancer called malignant melanoma.

Moles are small, pigmented spots on the skin. They can be flesh-colored, yellow-brown or dark brown. They can be flat or raised. They are usually no more than 1 millimeter to 10 millimeters (less than half an inch) in diameter. Over the years, you may develop more of them.

Still, some moles do turn cancerous, so you should keep an eye on them.

Not every brownish, pigmented thing on your skin is a mole. For example, many people have little brownish bumps on their skin called seborrheic keratoses. They aren’t moles and don’t turn into melanoma.

The things to look for when you are examining a mole are the size, the color and the border – and any changes in size, color or border. A common or typical mole has an even color throughout and a distinct, regular border.

Some moles, called atypical moles, have different physical characteristics than common moles – and they are more likely to turn into cancer.

Atypical moles are usually larger in diameter (5 millimeters to 12 millimeters). They may have a mixture of colors, including tan, dark brown and sometimes pink or black. The border is often irregular. Atypical moles continue to develop after age 35.

You should inspect all of your moles, especially atypical moles, regularly for any abnormal changes. If the appearance of your moles suggests they may be cancerous, they should be removed and examined under a microscope. If they are found to be cancerous, additional skin in the surrounding area also must be removed.

Do not ignore warning signs. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, but early diagnosis could save your life.

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