Moles are something that most everyone has, at least somewhere on their body.
Many moles go overlooked, as simply cosmetic imperfections for years. What appears to be a harmless mole however could be skin cancer (melanoma). One in seventy five Americans will develop melanoma at some point in their lives.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that develops on the surface of the skin. If caught early and removed it is usually less deadly than other cancers and spreads less quickly. The cancer can spread to the lymph nodes in the body however, and can become fatal if not treated.
What causes melanoma?
Melanoma is most closely related to sun exposure; however you can develop melanoma on parts of your body that have not been exposed to the sun. With the gradual decline of the ozone layer and the increasing fashion of being “tan” melanoma cases have increased dramatically over the past 20 years.
Who is at risk for melanoma?
Everyone is at risk for developing melanoma. Those with very light skin, a family history of melanoma, or those with over one hundred moles are more likely to develop the cancer than others.
Is melanoma fatal?
If caught early melanoma is rarely a fatal cancer. Melanoma that is left untreated however can spread to other parts of your body at which point it can become a fatal disease. For that reason it is important to do regular checks of your moles and get any suspicious moles checked out and removed early on before they begin to be a problem.
How do I know if my mole is melanoma?
l. It is important to regularly inspect the moles on your body, looking for any warning signs that they might be cancerous:
1.A harmless mole is usually round, and for the most part symmetric. If your mole is asymmetric it may need to be looked at by your doctor, and could be melanoma.
2.A harmless mole is usually all one color. Most regular moles are either all black or all brown in color. If your mole is several different shades of black, brown, and or red it may need to be looked at by your doctor, and could be melanoma.
3.A harmless mole usually has smooth even edges. If your mole has jagged or rough edges it may need to be looked at by your doctor, and could be melanoma.
4.A harmless mole usually remains a constant size. If your mole appears to be growing in size or if another mole develops beside a pre-existing mole it may need to be looked at by your doctor, and could be melanoma.
5.A harmless mole is usually about the size of a pencil eraser or smaller. If your mole is larger in size, it may need to be looked at by your doctor, and could be melanoma.
What can you do to protect yourself against melanoma?
A good way to protect yourself against melanoma is wear sunscreen whenever you leave your home. Even on cloudy days, your skin can be damaged through sun exposure and you increase your risk of melanoma by being outside. Try to wear a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30 every day before you go outside. If you are spending a good deal of time outside, such as when you go to the beach or if you have a job outside try and reply your sunscreen every two hours.
Get a Hat
A Hat can help protect your body from direct damage from the suns rays. If you plan on spending an extended period of time in the sun a hat can help protect you from harmful rays and keep you cool.
Do monthly self exams
Each month do a self exam where you look for new moles, and check the status of your old ones. Melanoma can develop off of pre-existing moles, so even if you’ve had a mole all of your life, still keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t start to grow larger on have an additional mole attached to it. Check even locations that have not been exposed to the sun. Melanoma can develop anywhere on your body.
Visit your doctor
If you think you have a questionable mole, don’t wait to visit your doctor. Visiting your doctor immediately and having the mole looked at and or removed can be one of the best steps you can possibly take in protecting yourself against melanoma. If you catch the cancer early on and it is removed it will often do little or not damage to your body.
How is Melanoma Treated?
Melanoma is treated different depending on how long it has been on your body and if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body and your lymph node. After removing the cancerous mole from your body your doctor will often do a biopsy to determine whether or not the mole is cancerous. They will also remove some of the regular tissue surrounding the mole site to determine if the cancer has spread.
In the biopsy, your mole will be looked at under a microscope to determine whether or not the mole is cancerous. Cancer cells can be hard to detect, and errors can happen. Even though the biopsy for one mole comes back negative that also does not put you in the clear for all of your other new moles. It is important to have each mole checked separately to determine whether or not they are cancerous.
If the cancer has spread to your lymph node or other parts of your body a PET scan, CT scan, or MRI may be necessary to determine the extent of the damage and the best treatment options for you.
If the cancer has not spread, then the removal of the mole and regular follow up checks are all the treatment that is necessary. It is possible for a cancer to be removed, and then develop melanoma again in the same location or elsewhere on your body. Its important to keep checking and make sure no mole gets by without being checked.