Every now and then, you might notice new mole(s) growing out from your body. You start thinking whether it may be cancerous or it’s just another benign mole. As some of you know, it is normal for us to get more moles as we age. This reason for this is multifactorial and not very well understood even until today. But what we do know is that moles are caused by a pigment in our body called melanin. When melanin starts producing melanocytes, they may cluster together to form a mole. In most cases, moles are harmless and should not be worried. Some scientists proposed the development of moles is contributed to skin damage from the sun. This may explain why some moles become darker when they are exposed to the sun. Sometimes moles may also get darken during pregnancy or puberty.
The concern here though is that some moles may undergo morphological changes and eventually develop into melanoma, which is a form of skin cancer. Many of the people who develop melanoma are said to be due to UV radiation as a result of sun exposure. Inheritance and family history also play a role in the development of skin cancer. In some cases, the causes are unknown.
So who are the people at risk of developing skin cancer?
Well according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who naturally have light skin color such as the Caucasians have a higher risk of developing skin cancer compared to other ethnicities such as Africans, Hispanics, and Asians. Besides that, people who have personal or family history of skin cancer are also prone to have melanoma. If you do not have a family/personal history, UV radiation from overexposure to the sun may cause damage to your skin and trigger spontaneous gene mutation, which is the initial process of nearly all types of cancers.
Now I’m not implying that other ethnicities won’t get skin cancer, however, the chances are relatively lower when compared to white people. Also, demographic distribution and statistical data play a very important role when considering someone to have skin cancer. After all, numbers don’t lie.
When should you be concern?
In medicine, it is not always easy to delineate one disease from another if the presenting features are obscured. The same applies to skin cancer. However, there is a mnemonic to help people to figure out when they should seek out for medical consultation. It’s called the ABCD.
The key point here is CHANGE. While growing new moles may be normal and harmless, it is advisable to always keep an eye for changes. Because you never know if the mole is malignant or not unless you have done a punch biopsy, which is a procedure that removes the surface of the suspected funny/strange looking mole and view it under the microscope for confirmation. Once tested positive, the doctor will arrange another session of punch biopsy to ensure the margin of the cancerous tissue is excised.
Apart from the ABCD, you should take notice of some symptoms that may point toward skin cancer such as itchiness, bleeding or swelling around the mole. Sometimes the mole may evolve to have a crusty surface. All these are the red signs that warrant further check-up. But don’t panic, if diagnosed and treated early before the cancer cells start spreading, melanoma is a very treatable form of cancer.
Make no mistake that melanoma only develops in specific part of your body. In fact, it can happen in any parts of your body including the hair scalp and genitalia region. But since it is visible with naked eye, the disease can be caught easily and faster than other forms of cancer.
Here is another compiled image to help you get a rough idea of what a malignant melanoma looks like:
Don’t forget to look for moles that are growing bigger over time like the one shown below. Also, pay attention to the colour of the mole. Just shortly within a year’s period, the mole has evolved from brown to black colour.
What about the rate of melanoma spread?
The rate at which melanoma spreads varies from one person to another. For some people, it may take years before serious changes start to be noticeable while others may just evolve and spread in the span of weeks or months. There are 4 stages of melanoma. The staging depends on the thickness of the cancerous lesion and the extent of which the cancer cells have spread. Study shows 5 years survival rate is as high as 98% when detected at stage 1. When the cancer has metastasised, the 5 years survival rate immediately drops to 15%.
If melanoma has been diagnosed, your dermatologist will cut out the entire mole together with the normal skin that surrounds it and close the wound with stitches. Overall, the removal procedure is safe and the rate of complication is very low. Like all other forms of cancer, early detection and treatment is the key to survival. The take home point of this post is you should be very attentive to changes of your moles especially when you are in the risk factor group. Before I end this post, do check out some interesting facts of melanoma demonstrated in the graphics below: