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What is a Mole or a Nevus?
A mole or nevus is a dark brown growth on the skin that develops when pigment cells (melanocytes) grow in clusters rather than individually. These growths are usually seen on areas of the body exposed to the sun. Adults have between 10 and 40 moles
Most people are born with moles, while others typically appear later in childhood. Although the number of moles varies from person to person, light-skinned people generally have more moles due to lower amounts of the black pigment melanin in their skin.
Some women have moles that come and go with hormonal changes such as pregnancy or puberty.
Moles come in various shapes, sizes and forms, and are harmless too. Most people develop more moles on their skin naturally with old and sun exposure. Although common moles are not cancerous, regular skin checks are recommended especially for people who have more than 50 moles or has a family history of skin cancer.
It is important to get to know your skin and have an idea of what is normal for you so that you can spot any abnormal changes. Skin cancers rarely cause any pain and are much more frequently seen than felt. Cultivate a regular habit of screening your skin for new spots and alterations to existing freckles or moles. If you’re healthy with no history of skin cancer, ask your dermatologist how often you should be checking yourself. Meanwhile, if you’ve got a lot of moles, you should check yourself two to three times a year.
How to examine your skin for cancer
- Strip down completely and make sure you have a good light source.
- Use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check it for you.
- Make sure you check your entire body as skin cancers can sometimes occur in parts of the body not exposed to the sun, for example, soles of the feet, between fingers and toes and under nails
7 Signs of Skin Cancer
- Color. A normal mole has a dark brown color. The first sign of a potentially cancerous mole is a drastic change in color. For instance, a malignant mole has an inconsistent color (e., black in the middle and white, tan, red or pink) in the periphery or patches.
- Uneven border. Healthy moles have a well-defined border around the outside circumference. However, cancerous moles tend to appear blurred or irregular edges. They can also feel bumpy to touch, with coarse or ragged edges.
- Size: Normal moles normally do not exceed 6 millimeters (or ¼ inches) in diameter. If you have a mole gets unevenly smaller or gradually growing in size may be cancerous.
- Asymmetry: Cancerous moles are usually asymmetrical, which means they are unequally sized.
- Sores that don’t heal: A mole or sore that doesn’t heal no matter the treatment, ointment applied to it or duration may be cancerous.
- Bleeding and Scabbing: Particular care should be paid to any mole that is lumpy, rough, dry or scaly on the surface, especially if it’s itchy or tender to the touch. Any mole that bleeds or develops a crusty scab needs attention immediately.
- Evolving moles: An abnormal mole exhibits inconsistencies. It changes in color, shape, height or surface texture.
Can Apps Detect Skin Cancer?
There are several skin cancer detection applications currently on the app store. Some allow you to determine whether a mole or skin lesion seems malignant, while others allow users to monitor changes in growths on the skin.
These apps use mathematical algorithms to analyze photos of skin lesions and moles taken by the user and analyses them using the ABCDE (asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolution) method undertaken by dermatologists. The app then calculates a person’s risk of skin cancer based on the characteristic of the mole
Unfortunately, health professionals have criticized the accuracy of these apps, and advice should not be used in replacement of a dermatologist for assessing an individual’s risk of skin cancer. More work still needs to be done to improve these applications.
Dr. Steven Rosenberg, a West Palm Beach dermatologist and former president of the Florida Society of Dermatology, said some marks on the skin are tough to diagnose, and he questioned whether an app would be helpful.
“The biggest problem is lesions in a gray area,” he said. “Most of these programs can’t figure them out. You still end up doing a biopsy.”
At the moment, Health professionals and organizations worldwide strongly recommend that if an individual notice any suspicious marks or lesions on the skin, or abnormal changes in moles or skin sensation, the first port of call should be a doctor or dermatologist.
Who is at Risk for Skin Cancer?
- Ultraviolet (UV) light: The primary risk factor for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet light. People who reside in areas with year-round sunlight or those who spend a lot of time outdoors without sunscreen or protective clothing are at a higher
- Fair skin: Whites are at high risk of developing skin cancer than dark-skinned African Americans or Hispanics. This is because melanin helps protect the skin against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation. People with dark skin have more melanin.
- Gender: Men are twice as likely as women to have basal cell carcinoma and about three times as likely to have squamous cell cancers of the skin
- Immunosuppression: Conditions that weaken the immune system such as immune suppression therapy associated with organ transplant, infections such as viruses, may increase skin cancer risk
- Family history: Individuals with a family history of skin cancer may be at an increased. Also, individuals who have previously been diagnosed with skin cancer, are also at risk of developing the disease again.
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Sober, A., & Fitzpatrick, T. (1979). Melanoma Fact Sheet. CA: A Cancer Journal For Clinicians, 29(5), 276-279. doi: 10.3322/canjclin.29.5.276
SULLIVAN, M. (2005). Skin Cancer Program Sharpens Ability to See Suspect Lesions. Skin & Allergy News, 36(7), 35. doi: 10.1016/s0037-6337(05)70394-6
WORCESTER, S. (2013). Not-so-smart phone apps fail to spot skin cancer. Family Practice News, 43(2), 40. doi: 10.1016/s0300-7073(13)70070-7