girl-885779_1280-225x300Moles are a mystery to people. Not the moles burrowing through your yard, but those showing up on your back or chest. They concern people, but most moles are nothing to worry about. Here’s some information on moles.

What are they?

A mole is a pigmented growth on the skin that occurs when melanocytes, or pigmented skin cells, develop in clusters. Moles are common and develop usually until a person reaches 40, and then they tend to begin to fade away.

The only moles to be concerned about are atypical, unusual in appearance or different from every other mole on your body. These moles are called dysplastic nevi and can develop into skin cancer if left untreated.

What a normal mole or a melanoma?

Melanoma is the form of skin cancer when the growth grows downward, eventually dropping cancerous cells into the bloodstream, where they can then lodge anywhere in the body. That’s why it’s important to catch melanoma early, before it begins growing downward. Moles and melanoma can be mistaken for each other. Here are the differences:

  • Moles are one color, usually brown. They can also be pink, tan, black, red, blue, or skin-toned. A single melanoma has different colors within the single growth.
  • Moles are usually round, while melanomas are irregular in shape with an asymmetrical border.
  • Most moles change very slowly over time, often disappearing as a person moves past 40. Melanomas look different than every mole, changing size, shape, and color.
  • Moles usually do not grow even to the size of a pencil eraser. Melanomas keep growing.

Treatment of moles

Most moles can be simply left to their business, but if they are bothersome (for instance, if a bra strap keeps hitting a mole), unattractive, or show signs of potential skin cancer we recommend taking them off. At Deschutes, we remove moles either with surgical excision (cutting them out) or surgical shaving, where we literally shave the mole off the skin.

Have a question about a mole? Call us at Deschutes Dermatology Center, 541-330-0900.

Test Your Skin Cancer IQ

Skin CancerHere’s a little test to see just how much you know, or don’t know, about skin cancer. See how you do. Each question is true or false.

  1. Skin cancer is the United States’ most common form of cancer
  2. Skin cancer can be prevented.
  3. Using sunscreen will prevent skin cancer from developing.
  4. Melanoma is the most common type of skin cancer.
  5. You won’t get skin cancer from tanning beds.
  6. Most skin cancer cases can be cured.
  7. People with moles have a higher risk for melanoma.
  8. Most people who get skin cancer die from it.
  1. True. About one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. More than that number probably go undiagnosed.
  2. True. There are ways to lessen your exposure to the ultraviolet rays of the sun. Sun damage is cumulative, caused by UVA rays (they penetrate the skin and cause wrinkles) and UVB (they cause sunburn). Wear sun-blocking clothing. Wear sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Examine your skin regularly. Don’t use tanning beds.
  3. False. Sunscreen doesn’t allow you to spend unlimited time in the sun. It helps block harmful rays, but you need to limit your exposure.
  4. False. Melanoma is only about five percent of skin cancers, but it does cause the majority of deaths.
  5. False. Tanning beds increase your chances of developing skin cancer, not the other way around.
  6. True. All skin cancers, if caught early enough, can be cured with surgery.
  7. True. People with lots of moles or especially large moles are at a higher risk for melanoma. Check your moles constantly to see if they change shape or color.
  8. False. If detected early enough, most skin cancer cases are resolved successfully. But vigilance and early detection are key.

Living in Central Oregon, we are exposed to the sun almost every day of the year. Don’t take skin cancer lightly. Come and see us at Deschutes Dermatology every year to be checked.