Why are mole screenings important?
Some moles are completely harmless, and others can lead to skin cancer. What may look like a common mole could actually be very dangerous. Regular mole screenings ensure that abnormal growths are detected before they spread and become hard to treat. The earlier skin cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better. It’s much easier to completely remove cancerous growths in the early stages, and it’s also less likely that the growth will spread to other parts of the body if treated early.
What happens during a mole screening?
Patients who receive a mole screening at LA Laser and Skin Center can expect a quick and painless 10-15 minute exam. A skin cancer specialist will check the entire body for atypical moles and unusual lesions, paying close attention to size, color, border, and shape. If anything looks suspicious, a biopsy will be ordered.
Can a regular mole turn into skin cancer? What are the warning signs?
It is possible for a mole to turn into skin cancer, so keep a close watch on your moles. Immediately visit a doctor if you notice any changes in appearance. Below are warning signs that your mole may have turned into skin cancer.
- The color changes
- The mole gets unevenly smaller or bigger
- The mole changes in shape, texture, or height
- The skin on the surface becomes dry or scaly
- The mole becomes hard or feels lumpy
- It starts to itch
- It bleeds or oozes
How are moles biopsied and removed?
After a mole screening, your doctor may determine that one or more of your moles should be biopsied or removed. Depending on the type of mole and whether skin cancer is present, you and your doctor will create a treatment plan.
Biopsies are samples of body tissue taken in order to test for cancer cells. Your tissue sample will be extracted and then sent to a lab for testing. Once testing is complete, a specialist will contact you to discuss your biopsy test results and next steps for treatment.
The two most common biopsy methods include the shave and the punch techniques. Your doctor will select the best method for your biopsy based upon the location and type of mole.
Shave Biopsy- The shave biopsy method is used when a mole raises above the surface of the skin. A scalpel is held parallel to the mole and then moved in a straight motion to remove the skin sample.
Punch Biopsy- The punch biopsy is advantageous in flat moles where the shave technique would leave behind a visible divot in the skin. Using a specialized punch tool selected to fit the exact mole size, the instrument is pressed downward with a back and forth turning motion. Forceps are then applied to elevate the skin sample, and scissors are used to snip the skin from fatty tissue. Punch biopsies require stitches to close the wound.
Mole Removal Methods
If your doctor determines that cancer is present or that your mole is likely to become precancerous or cancerous, the mole will need to be completely removed. There are three methods for mole removal.
Electrodessication and Curettage- During the first step, a curette is used to scrape out cancerous cells. Next, an electrodessication tool is used to char the base and sides of the curetted area. The charred tissue is then removed. This process is repeated three times to ensure that all cancerous tissue is removed.
Surgical Excision- Similar to biopsies, moles can be surgically removed using either the shave or punch method.
Cryosurgery- During treatment, liquid nitrogen is applied with a cryogun to the center of the mole, forming an ice ball in the center until the entire mole is frozen. The treated area will gradually heal, and any dead skin and scabs will naturally detach during the healing process.
What is the medical name for moles?
The medical term for a mole is nevus. The plural is nevi.
How are moles and melanin connected?
Melanin is the pigment found deep within your skin cells. This melanin is produced and delivered throughout the skin by cells called melanocytes. Sometimes excess melanin and melanocytes cluster together, causing moles. Within these clusters, melanocytes may mutate or trigger surrounding cells to mutate, causing skin cancer.
Which type of mole do I have?
Common Moles- A common mole is a growth on the skin that develops when melanocytes grow in clusters. Most adults have between 10-40 common moles. These growths are usually found above the waist on areas exposed to the sun. They are seldom found on the scalp, breast, or buttocks.
Although common moles may be present at birth, they usually appear later in childhood. Most people continue to develop new moles until about age 40. In older people, common moles tend to fade away.
A common mole is usually smaller than the width of a pencil eraser. It is round or oval, has a smooth surface with a distinct edge, and is often dome shaped. A common mole usually has an even color of pink, tan, or brown. People who have dark skin or hair tend to have darker moles than people with fair skin.
Atypical Moles- Formally known as dysplastic nevi, atypical moles look different from common moles. They are usually bigger than common moles, and their color, surface, and borders may be different. Atypical moles can have a mixture of several colors, from pink to dark brown. Usually, they are flat with a smooth, slightly scaly, or pebbly surface. They also have irregular edges that often fade into the surrounding skin.
Atypical moles can occur anywhere on the body, but they are usually seen in areas exposed to the sun, such as the back. Rarely, they may appear in areas not exposed to the sun, such as the scalp, breasts, and areas below the waist.
Some people only have a few atypical moles, while others have more than 10. People who have multiple atypical moles usually also have a greater number of common moles. Most atypical moles do not turn into skin cancer, remaining stable over time. Researchers estimate that the chance of skin cancer is about ten times greater for someone with more than five atypical moles compared to someone who has none. The more atypical moles a person has, the greater the chance of developing skin cancer.
Melanoma- Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that can develop from common and atypical moles as well as healthy skin cells. Like other types of moles, melanoma is caused by a cluster of melanocytes. A mutation in the melanocytes causes melanoma. Click here to learn more about melanoma and treatment options available at LA Laser and Skin Center.