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Mole or Melanoma: When to Worry?

Written by
Dr. Nandhini J
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Sep 26, 2017 and last reviewed on Sep 07, 2018   -  3 min read

Abstract

Melanoma is a grave disease that mostly arises from an innocent-looking mole. If a mole is present on the body, here is how you can know if it is just a mole or melanoma. This article sketches the various aspects of the mole, from its morphology to the preventive measures.

Contents
Mole or Melanoma: When to Worry?

A mole or nevus is a black or brown spot present in the skin. It is usually round, has a uniform color with smooth edges, and often measures less than 6 mm in diameter. They are often acquired during childhood or adolescence. Most of them will never cause a problem. If new moles arise with age or there is a change in it, there is always a risk of it turning into a melanoma.

Where Does It Appear?

It can occur anywhere in the body, irrespective of if the area is exposed to the sun or not.

Do Moles Have Different Appearances?

Yes, moles have a variety of shapes, and a recurring pattern in a patient constitute 'signature' lesions.

Common mole signatures include:

What Is ABCDE of Melanoma?

When to Worry?

All the symmetric changes occurring in a mole, such as an increase in size with age, a uniform darkening after sun-exposure or after a chronic trauma, etc., are not signs of malignancy. However, if there is bleeding, ulceration or an increase in number after 50 years of age, then it is a red flag for malignancy.

Who Should Be Tested?

Patients with the following increased risk factors should be screened annually or bi-annually.

  1. Moles with an irregular shape and which increase in number.
  2. Familial atypical multiple mole melanoma syndrome.
  3. A large congenital nevus.
  4. Persons with fair skin, and blond or red hair.
  5. A family history of melanoma.
  6. A previous history of melanoma or other skin cancer.
  7. Low immunity (immunosuppressants, HIV, etc.).
  8. Advanced age.
  9. Male sex.
  10. Exposure to sunrays and UV (ultraviolet) rays.
  11. Xeroderma pigmentosum.

What Does Having a Risk Factor Indicate?

Not all the persons who have multiple risk factors will end up having the disease. It is also possible that melanoma may arise in a person with few or no risk factors. It is significant to know that anyone can get melanoma.

Can Melanoma Be Found at an Early Stage?

Yes, it can be detected at an early stage. If it is done, the success rate of the treatment is very high (99 to 100 %).

How to Do a Skin Self-Examination?

Your eyes and a full-length mirror are all that is required.

  1. Thoroughly examine all the areas of the body including the scalp, palms, back of your thighs, etc., every month.
  2. Check for the appearance of new moles, as well as the size, shape, color, and texture of the existing ones.
  3. Clicking pictures of the involved area will be an added tool for comparison of the progress if any.
  4. Never inspect using a magnifying lens as it may intensify the ruggedness of the borders. The more magnified a mole is, the more attenuated and uneven edges it appears to have, which causes a lot of anxiety.

When to Approach a Physician?

In patients with a family history or a history of melanoma, if you find any mole which does not fit into the signature lesion category, a mole having an irregular border to a naked eye, is sore or bleeds, it is always better to get examined by a dermatologist using a dermatoscope.

What Are the Tests to Be Done?

Should I Get All the Moles Removed?

No, the doctors will not always remove all the moles, as most of them are harmless. By removing few or all of them, the risk of melanoma development does not decrease, and it is also possible for a melanoma to develop de novo (from the beginning).

What Are the Preventive Measures?

Certain risk factors like age, gender, family history, etc., cannot be prevented. However, the following precautions can be taken.

For more information consult a melanoma specialist online --> https://www.icliniq.com/ask-a-doctor-online/dermatologist/melanoma

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Frequently Asked Questions


1.

What Type of Cancer Is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that arises from the melanin-producing cells or melanocytes. It is a serious condition which, left untreated, can be life-threatening.

2.

In Which Region Do Melanomas Start?

There is no specific site for melanomas to occur, and they can appear anywhere on the skin. Apart from the skin, they can also occur in the eyes, genitals, anal region, and mouth too. But women most commonly develop melanomas on the legs, and men can develop it commonly on the chest and back. Also, melanomas most commonly appear on the neck and face.

3.

How Does One Develop Melanoma?

Though it is unclear how only certain moles transform into melanomas, it is believed that genetic mutations cause melanomas. Certain risk factors increase the risk of melanoma, such as,
Ultraviolet rays exposure from the sun and man-made sources like tanning beds, UV lamps, etc.
- Family history.
- Fair skin.
- Having many moles.
- Weak immune system.
These factors necessarily need not cause melanoma.

4.

Can One Have Melanoma Without Knowing It?

While aggressive melanomas grow and spread rapidly, less aggressive melanomas can be developing in a person without their knowledge. People can have a slow-growing melanoma for a decade and not know it. There are certain signs and symptoms that might be indicative of melanoma, such as,
- A mole that is changing its size, shape, or color suddenly.
- The sudden appearance of new, unusual pigmented lesions.
- Non-healing skin sores.
- Itchiness or pain in an otherwise healthy mole.

5.

Do Melanomas Appear Raised or Flat?

Melanomas can either appear raised or flat. Most melanomas appear as flat lesions.

6.

How Does One With Melanoma Feel?

A person may have melanoma and feel completely normal. Most of the time, they do not experience any symptoms, but when they do, they may experience itching, bleeding, oozing, or pain in the lesion. In advanced stages of melanoma, people may feel lethargic and tired and feel like not eating anything.

7.

Do Melanomas Cause an Itching Sensation?

Melanomas may or may not itch. Most of the time, melanomas do not present with any sign. But itching, soreness, bleeding, or pain can also be present.

8.

At What Rates Does Melanoma Spread?

Not all melanomas grow and spread fast. And when they happen to grow fast, they can spread quickly as early as six weeks to become life-threatening. Aggressive melanomas that grow and spread quickly include,
- Nodular melanomas.
- Superficial spreading melanomas.
- Lentigo maligna melanomas.

9.

Is Melanoma Completely Curable?

Melanoma is highly curable only if detected and treated in the early stages when the lesion is confined only to the top layer of the skin. If it spreads to the deeper tissues of the skin or other body parts, it becomes difficult to cure it.

10.

Do Melanomas Always Cause Death?

Melanomas are not always fatal. When detected and treated early, even before the lesion spreads to the deeper tissues of the skin and other parts of the body, melanoma is very much curable, with five-year survival rates of 99%.

11.

Can Blood Work Detect Melanoma?

Blood tests do not detect melanoma. They are not diagnostic tests of melanoma. But blood tests are ordered before and after melanoma treatment to assess the patient’s health condition and determine the aggressiveness of melanoma.

12.

How to Identify the Spread of Melanoma?

Advanced melanomas spread to different parts of the body and are difficult to cure. Following signs and symptoms are indicative of advanced melanoma that has spread to other parts,
- Fatigue.
- Unintentional weight and appetite loss.
- Persistent cough.
- Breathing difficulties.
- Painful and swollen lymph nodes.
- Painful bones.
- Hardened skin with or without lumps in the region of melanoma.
- Headaches.

13.

What Does Melanoma Do to the Body?

Melanomas can become life-threatening or cause serious adverse effects if untreated. It can spread to other vital parts of the body like the liver, brain, lungs, bones, etc., and deteriorate their function, eventually leading to death.

14.

Can Melanomas Develop Within a Day?

Melanomas can occur suddenly and spread rapidly, or they can even develop slowly over the years. Based on their aggressiveness, their spread and growth rates vary.

15.

Do Melanomas Resolve on Their Own?

Surprisingly, in about 10 to 20% of the cases, melanomas regress on their own without treatment. It is due to the body’s immune response that these melanomas disappear. This also makes the person free from melanoma completely if it has not metastasized.

16.

Should Melanomas Be Removed Quickly?

Surgery is the preferred method of treating melanoma to prevent it from spreading. Along with the melanoma, 1 to 2 cm of normal skin will also be removed for better results.

17.

When Does a Mole Cause a Concern?

Moles with a sudden change in color, size, or shape are concerning. Unevenly colored moles, asymmetrical moles with rugged borders, newly appearing moles in adulthood, and moles with itching, flaking, or bleeding tendencies raise a concern and might be indicative of skin cancers.

Last reviewed at:
07 Sep 2018  -  3 min read

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