Your skin is something you don’t always include when you think about your health. However, years of sun damage and wear-and-tear can do a number on your largest organ. In fact, in some cases, it can lead to skin cancer. But did you know that seemingly harmless moles can also contribute to melanoma, a form of skin cancer?
At Hunterdon Oncology and Hematology, our team of experts helps you determine your risk for melanoma. Leading our team are five oncology and hematology specialists, who not only treat melanoma, but other types of skin cancer as well.
What is melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that’s typically caused by overexposure to harmful UV rays from the sun. It’s a very aggressive form of cancer and can be deadly if it’s not found and treated early.
Melanoma gets its name because this type of cancer originates in your melanocytes, cells that make melanin, which gives your skin its pigment. Melanoma is most often found on areas of your skin that are exposed to sunlight, including:
Sometimes, it can even show up in areas that don’t see a lot of sun, like the bottoms of your feet and your fingernail beds. In rare cases, this type of cancer may also be found in your eyes, nose, or throat.
So are you at risk for melanoma? If you use tanning beds or are regularly exposed to sunlight, you’re at a higher risk for this disease. There are other risk factors as well, some of which include:
- Fair skin
- Frequent sunburn
- Family history
- Weak immune system
Another risk factor for melanoma is a large number of ordinary-looking moles on your body. If you have more than 50 moles, you’re at a higher risk for developing melanoma.
How moles and skin cancer are linked
Normally, moles on their own aren’t dangerous. Moles are simply a cluster of melanocytes that grow together to form a darker pigmented spot on your skin. Most adults have some moles, which are usually found in areas that get sun exposure.
A normal, noncancerous mole is about the size of a pencil eraser or smaller, and is oval or round in shape. It also has a regular edge and is smooth the whole way around.
So how are moles and melanoma linked? If your moles are regularly shaped, you don’t have much to worry about. However, in some cases, you may have something called a dysplastic nevus, which is basically an irregular-looking mole.
Dysplastic nevi aren’t usually cancerous, but you should keep a close eye on them to make sure they don’t change. To avoid finding melanoma too late, be sure to check your moles at least once a month, and look for changes like:
- Becomes itchy
- Becomes scaly
- Changes in size
- Bleeds or oozes
- Changes in shape
- Changes in texture
Moles that become lumpy or hard to the touch are also a concern. If you have any moles that show signs of any of these changes, it’s important to contact our team for an evaluation. The earlier you find these changes, the earlier melanoma can be diagnosed and treated if that’s the case.
When it’s found early, before it has a chance to spread, melanoma is usually curable. The best way to stay ahead of melanoma is to avoid excess UV light exposure and to check your moles regularly to assess for changes.
If you have any moles that you’re worried about, please don’t hesitate to call our office in Flemington, New Jersey at 908-788-6461, or schedule an appointment online with one of our amazing doctors today.