Updates from Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Hospital Foundation
People should consistently check for irregularities that may appear on the body. Moles, for example, are common and most people have one or more. A mole is a concentration of pigment producing cells called melanocytes in your skin. The technical name is nervus, from the Latin word for birthmark.
It is not unusual for moles to appear during childhood and change in size and color as you grow. Most moles are small, less than one-quarter inch in diameter. They can be found anywhere on the body singly or in a group.
Congenital moles, or birthmarks, vary in size, shape, and color. Approximately two percent of infants are born with a congenital mole. Acquired, or common moles, appear after birth. Acquired moles are usually round or oval, flat or slightly raised, tan to black in color, small and unchanging.
Atypical or dysplastic moles are more serious. They look different than ordinary moles. While they can appear anywhere on the body including your neck, head, or scalp, they rarely appear on the face. Atypical moles have the potential to become melanomas or cancerous.
Why new moles appear in adulthood isn’t well understood. Though they are often benign or no threat to health or life, it is important to get them checked out. Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer, but new moles or spots can also be basil cell, or squamous cancers. These moles often appear on the parts of the body that are exposed to the sun.
For women, the most common parts of the body for melanoma are the arms and legs. For men, those sites are the back, trunk, head and neck.
A way to check your moles once a month is to use a simple alphabetical guide. A, for asymmetry is when the two mole halves don’t match. B is for border, meaning there are irregular edges. C is for color, when a mole is multicolored. D is for diameter, so watch for moles that grow bigger than a pencil eraser. E is for evolution, meaning you see a change in a mole.
If you fall into more than one of the categories or as you age and moles appear, it is recommended that you have a skin check with a dermatologist annually. For those at high risk, your physician may recommend a check-up every six months.
Non-cancerous moles can be removed in an outpatient setting. Generally they are surgically removed, burned off or shaved away. If a mole is cancerous, it needs to be removed immediately so the cancer doesn’t spread beyond the skin to other parts of the body. Once a mole is removed, it should be examined for skin cancer.
People in ancient times were slightly obsessed with beauty marks. The Greco-Romans had a mythical explanation that moles were put on mortals who were gorgeous enough to rival the gods. For many today such as Cindy Crawford, Marilyn Monroe, and Elizabeth Taylor, beauty mark are a badge of honor and manner of distinction.
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