Do the beauty spots, we proudly flaunt, indicate a sign of beauty or are they a threat of a deadly skin cancer?
One per cent of moles are likely to turn into skin cancer. This may sound trivial, but let’s look at it this way. On average most adults have about fifteen to twenty moles in various places on their body. This means one in every seven could have moles that turn into cancer, making it definitely worth a doctor’s attention.
HOW DO WE GET MOLES?
Moles are created when the skin has additional layers of melanocytes or pigment producing cells. Basically they are growths on the skin that occur when pigment cells within the deep layer of the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread out uniformly. These could be congenital melanonarvi, the ones you have from birth or they could come up over time due to sunlight exposure. If they do come up later, it’s usually in the first 20 years of your age. Rarely do they appear later in life. Moles can be flat or raised and are usually pink, tan, brown, or flesh-colored and can appear anywhere on the skin.
WHEN DO MOLES BECOME CANCEROUS?
Fortunately, the vast majority of moles are harmless and do not cause any problem except perhaps appear ugly. It’s only a small percentage that turn to cancer. And this proportion differs for Caucasians and Asians. In Asians, it is less common for a mole to turn into skin cancer. If they do, it’s typically the ones on the palm and soles. However, both Caucasians and Asians should give attention to the congenital divine moles that are quite big and continue to grow. If the mole changes in colour, grows fast or if the borders of the mole change, get it checked. You also consult a doctor if the moles bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful. Large congenital or changing moles are more likely to turn to melanoma. If there are no changes over time, there is little reason for concern, except if you have family history of melanoma then you should have your mole checked by a dermatologist every six months.
COULD YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT MELANOMA CANCER?
Melanoma is an aggressive cancer that can spread to other areas of the body and can be fatal if not treated early. It is important that the cancer be detected as early as possible. This cancer is caused in the pigment-producing cells in the skin. As the cells multiply, they form a mass called a tumour. These tumours are cancerous only if they are malignant. This means that they encroach on and invade neighbouring tissues because of their uncontrolled growth. Other than a changing mole, having a mole larger than 15cm in diameter since birth, having over 50 moles, other risk factors for melanoma include a typical nervous syndrome, genetics or using a tanning bed frequently before the age of 30.
TO BE SAFE, SHOULD WE REMOVE OUTSIZED MOLES, REGARDLESS?
If you have a big mole, and you have genetics for it, and it’s in the area that you don’t mind a scar, I would recommend you remove it. If it’s in the area that you don’t wish to risk a scar, then you may not remove it, but you’ll have to watch closely. Get your mole checked by a dermatologist every six months to a year or you can monitor them yourself by taking pictures region by region, and comparing them every six months to see if there has been any change. If you have a new mole or you see any signs of change, something odd in an existing mole or if you want a mole to be removed for cosmetic reasons, talk to your dermatologist. Pay special attention to areas of your skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the hands, arms, chest, neck, face, and ears.
HOW ARE MOLES TREATED?
It’s quite a simple procedure. If we feel the mole needs to be evaluated, we do a biopsy by shave off a part of it and send to the lab, but if the moles don’t look strange then we can just laser them off. If the mole is found to be cancerous and it’s detected early, we dermatologists will remove the entire mole by cutting it out along with a rim of normal skin around it, and stitching the wound closed. The stage of the cancer is determined by how many millimetres thick the cancerous tissue is. To make sure the cancer hasn’t spread to other areas of the body, a chest x-ray and a lab test for the liver is taken. If the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, the best treatment is to remove the cancerous tissue if possible. Sometimes, chemotherapy is used along with removal.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT SKIN CANCER?
To prevent skin cancer, avoid excessive exposure to the sun, especially the midday sun from 11am to 2pm. Also avoid tanning boot and use hats and sunscreen when you can. And as mentioned earlier, visit a skin check clinic to consult a doctor if you have sores that will not heal or unusual changes in a mole.