Skin Cancer vs Mole
It’s important to examine your skin from head to toe about once a month to identify any potential skin cancers early, such as existing lesions and moles. Take note of any changes in their appearance. In this article we will discuss skin cancer vs mole, as well as their similarities and differences and when you should seek medical treatment.
What is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer affects millions of Americans and can affect individuals of any age, gender, or ethnic background. It is estimated that approximately 40% to 50% of fair-skinned individuals who live to the age of 65 will develop some type of skin cancer during their lifetime.
This type of cancer involves the abnormal growth (due to mutations occurring in the DNA) of skin cells. These mutations result in uncontrolled growth leading to the development of a cancerous mass. Although skin cancer can affect any area of skin, it most commonly affects areas that are exposed to sunlight, including the ears, scalp, face, lips, chest, neck, arms, and hands.
Skin cancer begins in the epidermis, which is the top layer of skin that helps to provide protection of the skin cells. The epidermis is comprised of squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. The three main types of skin cancer affect these cells and are termed squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is not as common as basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma, but it is far more serious and can even be fatal.
What is a Mole?
A mole, also known as a nevus, is a non-cancerous tumor that is a growth of melanocytes (cells that give skin its color). People are not typically born with moles; they typically begin to appear during childhood and early adulthood. The majority of moles do not cause problems. However, individuals who have more than 50 normal looking moles, or more than five atypical moles, are at a heightened risk of developing melanoma, which is an aggressive type of cancer.
Similarities and Differences Between Skin Cancer and Moles
In order to determine if a growth on your skin is skin cancer or a benign mole, think about the first five letters of the alphabet: A,B,C,D, and E. This will help guide you through your examination.
Skin cancer lesions are often asymmetrical, and benign moles are symmetrical.
The borders of skin cancer lesions are typically irregular and difficult to define. They are ragged, notched, or blurry. The borders of benign moles are usually smooth and even.
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The color of melanoma is often uneven and involves a variety of colors, including black, brown, white, red, purple, and/or blue. Melanoma lesions can be raised, or flat and often bleed easily. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma are typically small, pale, or pearly bumps, or dark red areas that have a flat, raised or scaly texture.
Benign moles are usually a single shade of either tan or brown.
Typically benign moles are smaller than skin cancer lesions. A good rule of thumb is if the diameter of the lesion is larger than a pencil tip eraser it may be changing or growing and may be cause for concern.
Lesions on the skin should be monitored for any changes in shape, size, color, or elevation. Additionally, new symptoms that appear, such as itching, bleeding, and/or crusting may be a warning size of skin cancer.
When Should You Seek Medical Help?
If you notice a skin lesion that is asymmetrical with irregular borders, multiple colors, larger than the size of a pencil eraser, of if you notice a new, changing, or unusual lesion, it is a good idea to get it checked out by your doctor.
If your doctor is suspicious of the lesion, they will remove a sample of tissue from the mole to biopsy it. If the biopsy shows that it is cancerous, the entire cancerous lesion, as well as an area of normal skin surrounding the lesion, will be removed. Further treatment may also be necessary.
It’s important to remember that once you have been diagnosed with skin cancer you are at risk of skin cancer in the future, so you should be monitored once a year by a dermatologist.
Skin cancer can be successfully treated if it is caught early, so it is important to inspect the skin on your body regularly for any new or changing skin lesions. Don’t forget the “hidden” spots such as your ears, between your fingers and toes, under your nails, and the soles of your feet. Remember your ABCs, and if you notice a lesion on your skin that is questionable, it is important to seek medical attention as early and accurate diagnosis gives you the best chance for optimal treatment outcomes.