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Dermatologist examining a small mole on a woman's neck.

January 21, 2021 • read

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Should I be worried about my new mole?

Almost every adult has a few moles. You may be born with them, and new ones form as you get older. Most new moles aren’t cause for concern, but monitoring their appearance is a good practice. It helps with early detection of melanoma — a deadly type of skin cancer.

What are moles?

Moles are skin growths that commonly form in utero or during your first year after birth. They’re the result of a cluster of melanocytes in one place on your skin. Melanocytes are the cells that make the pigment melanin. They’re what gives your moles their colour — typically a shade of brown that’s darker than your skin.

Melanoma and skin cancer

Melanoma is a type of cancer affecting the skin, eyes, and intestines. It begins in the melanocytes. These cells begin to multiply at a rapid rate, leading to the formation of tumours. These tumours can sometimes resemble moles. This is why it’s good to be familiar with the moles on your body. You can spot new changes quickly, and contact a doctor as soon as you notice anything unusual.

Risk factors for skin cancer include:

  • Age between 35-75.
  • Light skin.
  • Blonde or red hair.
  • Having more than 50 moles.
  • Having large moles, greater than two inches in diameter.
  • Noticing new moles, or that your moles are changing in size or shape.
  • Family or personal history of skin cancer.
  • Having severe sun damage in the past.
  • History of tanning bed use.

Skin cancer is one of the most aggressive types of cancer if left untreated. Luckily, with early detection it’s very treatable. The average success rate of curing melanoma through early detection is about 99%

Checking your moles for cancer

The ABCDE method can be used to check moles for signs of melanoma. Here’s what to look for:

A – asymmetry. If one part of your mole is a very different shape than the other, it’s a sign of melanoma.

B – border. Raised or scalloped borders are unusual in moles.

C – colour. Healthy moles tend to be a uniform shade of brown. Dark moles, or moles with many colours, might be cancer. 

D – diameter. Pay special attention to any moles you have that are larger than six millimeters across. 

E – evolution. A mole that suddenly appears, grows, or changes colour or shape should be examined by a doctor.

Types of moles

Congenital Mole

Congenital moles are moles that you’ve had since birth. They’re round or oval patches on the skin that are sometimes slightly raised. These moles vary in shape, size and colour. Especially during puberty, or periods where your body undergoes a hormonal shift, it’s normal for the appearance of these moles to change. Typical changes include hair growth on the mole and small raised bumps.

With congenital moles, the likelihood of cancer depends on the mole’s size. Anything larger than 5cm across is considered a giant mole. One large mole with many satellite moles falls under the same category. People with moles of this size are at a higher risk of skin cancer, but giant moles are rare. Otherwise, congenital moles are at low risk for becoming cancerous. 

Atypical Mole

These moles are also called dysplastic moles. They’re similar in colour to congenital moles. What sets them apart is their shape. Their perimeter is uneven, which is a characteristic of cancerous moles too. Even though atypical moles are not necessarily cancerous, keep a closer eye on yours for signs of melanoma. Since they’re not a uniform growth, signs of cancer can be easier to miss.

Acquired Mole

An acquired mole is simply a mole that appears after birth. This isn’t unusual, and most acquired moles don’t become cancerous. 

They’re small and circular with a fairly even shape. Their colours are similar to those of a congenital mole — shades of tan or brown that are darker than the rest of your skin.

New moles in adults

A new mole isn’t automatically cause for alarm. They often form during hormone changes, like during pregnancy or as you enter old age. 

Since new growths on the skin can sometimes be melanomas, monitoring new moles is important. New moles have a higher likelihood of becoming cancerous than moles you’ve had since birth. 

Mole mapping

Mole mapping is a way of screening your skin for the presence of cancerous moles. One in six Canadians will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, and early intervention makes a big difference in recovery. Mole scanning technology like the FotoFinder ATBM Master digitally scans the moles and other birthmarks on your body. Using artificial intelligence, it then flags skin abnormalities that are cause for concern. Reports from the scan are reviewed by your dermatologist, who can advise on treatment for any concerning growths.

An annual visit to the dermatologist to have your moles examined is recommended, especially if you have any of the above-mentioned risk factors for melanoma.

Diagnosis and treatment

If a mole is thought to be cancerous, your doctor will do a skin biopsy. That’s when a small sample of skin tissue from the mole is removed and sent to a laboratory for testing. 

If your mole turns out to be melanoma, the next thing the doctor will determine is which stage of cancer it has progressed to. Cancer has four stages. In the early stages, cancer hasn’t spread past the original site. This is easier to treat and normally involves surgically removing the cancerous mole. In later stages, cancer has usually formed a large tumour or spread to other parts of the body. Options for treating cancer at this stage include radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and targeted therapy.

By getting familiar with the moles on your body and checking them often, you’ll reduce your chances of developing later-stage skin cancer. New moles aren’t a bad thing. They’re just something to keep an eye on.

If you’re interested in receiving a mole mapping scan to thoroughly check all the moles on your body, book an appointment. Mole mapping is quick, non-invasive, and uses the newest technology.

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