Thanks to celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Madonna, moles or beauty marks have become completely iconic. And while that little dark speck above your upper lip or on the side of your chin can make you look effortlessly glamorous, it turns out that may be a sign of a something not quite as appealing – skin cancer.
Don’t get us wrong, we don’t want to turn you against your beauty marks. In fact, we think they can be useful in more ways than just making you look like a model straight out of those glossy magazine pages. Usually, it’s hard to figure out the bad stuff that’s going on inside our bodies, and it’s not until signs and symptoms show up that we actually do something about it. Unfortunately, by then, it may be too late.
Moles, on the other hand, can tell you if you have skin cancer. All moles are not cancerous, but then again, all moles aren’t benign either. And since they pretty much pop up on visible areas of your skin, it’s very easy to be on the alert just by making a few simple observations. The observations bit, we’ll get to – but only after we talk about what causes cancerous moles to begin with.
Research reports that skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the US. The American Academy of Dermatology estimates that one in five Americans will most likely develop skin cancer at some point in their life. 1
Not all types skin cancers are deadly. However, dermatologists urge people to be on the lookout for melanoma, a type of skin cancer that is not only the most dangerous if not treated at the earliest but also the third most common kind which is currently on the rise. It has been estimated that by 2017, roughly 87,110 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed while the disease is expected to kill about 9,730 people.2 And while melanoma is mostly diagnosed in men who are in their 60s, women are more susceptible to the disease since they can get them at any age, with the amount of risk depending on either sun exposure or on family history.
The good news, however, is that only 2 percent of skin cancers turn out to be melanoma, which means it’s a rare disease.3 Also, melanoma can be easily cured if it’s diagnosed in its early stages. The most obvious telltale sign you need to be on the lookout for is a mole, a mark, or a blemish on your skin.
Melanoma And Cancerous Moles
Melanoma begins in melanocytes – cells in our skin that produce melanin, which imparts color to our skin, hair, and eyes.
The leading cause of melanoma is too much exposure to ultraviolet or UV rays from sunlight. Every time your melanocytes come in contact with sunlight, they make produce more melanin that results in your skin becoming dark and developing freckles, a tan, or moles. Most of these, however, are fairly benign.
Sometimes, however, too much exposure to UV radiation can adversely affect the DNA structure in melanocytes. This may cause them to grow and develop into a tumor. Blisters caused by sunburns during childhood years and the excessive use of tanning beds can also put you at an increased risk of melanoma.
Melanoma tumors may often either originate within an existing mole or develop their own lesions that look like moles. The National Cancer Institute claims that people sporting more than 50 moles on their skin are at a greater risk of developing melanoma.4
How To Tell A Cancerous Mole From A Benign One
Now that you know what melanoma and moles have to do with each other, let’s get down to teaching ourselves how to tell if a mole is cancerous or just harmless. All you need to do is stand naked in front of the mirror and look for any blemishes or specks that you didn’t have before. You should also check old ones to see if you can spot any weird changes, for changing moles may also be a sign that you have melanoma.
Moles may be cancerous if one or more of the following is observed:
- Asymmetry: If one-half of a mole appears different from the other.
- Border irregularity: Poorly defined or blurred, irregular borders
- Colour: Dark or multicolored moles
- Diameter: Moles that are larger than the size of pencil erasers, though melanoma can be smaller, too.
- Evolution or change: Moles that are changing in shape, size, or color.
Note: If you find a suspicious mole on your body, do consult your dermatologist right away to rule out any possibilities of melanoma.
Preventing Melanoma (Skin Cancer)
It is important to identify melanoma, but the ideal scenario would be to not let your skin get to that stage in the first place. Here are some tips that will help you prevent not just melanoma, but all kinds of skin cancers in general.
- Consume lots of antioxidants: All cancers are a result of a chemical process called oxidation. Eating lots of antioxidant-rich foods like sweet potatoes, blueberries, green tea, nuts, and grapes will help stop this oxidation process and fight off the harmful free radicals that trigger cell mutation and the subsequent development of cancerous cells.
- Stay safe in the sun: Try and wear loose, airy full-sleeved clothes each time you’re getting ready to spend a day in the sun. Also, invest in some high quality, broad range sunscreen that will give you long lasting protection from the sun’s harsh UV rays. Remember to always apply sunscreen on your skin, even if you’re going out for a short while. If you’re out for longer hours, carry it along with you so that you can keep reapplying it. Bear in mind that your moles are your weak spots, so make sure to cover them up with sunscreen as well, especially if you’re fair-skinned or are more prone to sunburns.
|↑1||Skin cancer. American Academy of Dermatology.|
|↑2||Key Statistics for Melanoma Skin Cancer. American Cancer Society.|
|↑3||Skin Cancer (Including Melanoma) – Patient Version. National Cancer Institute.|
|↑4||Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Risk of Melanoma. The National Cancer Institute.|