Moles - When to Have Them Checked Out

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Summer is officially here. We are all well educated about ensuring we protect ourselves in the sun but do we know how often we should be checking our skin for moles and what we are looking for?  

Everyone has moles on their skin. Sun exposure can cause more moles, and it can make the moles you already have darker.


What are moles?

Moles are small coloured spots on your skin that are made up of cells called melanocytes. These cells make the colour in your skin. You can find moles anywhere on your body but most often on your back, legs, arms and face.

Moles come in many shapes, sizes, and colours. They are usually circular or oval with a smooth edge, often appear as a brownish colour but they can be darker or skin-coloured, can be flat or raised, smooth or rough, and some have hair growing from them.

Most moles are completely harmless but some can be cancerous.


Why do moles develop?

Most moles develop during your first 30 years of life. You may be born with some moles.

You may be more predisposed to moles if you have fair skin, if they are common in your family, or if you’ve spent a lot of time in the sun.

Moles can change in their number and appearance. They may fade away over time or they may respond to hormonal changes. For example, when you’re pregnant they might become slightly darker, when you’re a teenage you may get more moles, and from 40 to 50 years of age onwards your moles may disappear.


How to check your skin for moles

Changes to a mole may be an early indication of a type of skin cancer called melanoma.

A mole can change within weeks or months so it’s important to check your skin every few months. You’ll be checking new moles and any changes to existing moles. If you notice any differences to your moles or you are worried about them, you should see your GP or book an appointment with a dermatologist. When checking you should be looking out for moles:

- that have uneven colouring – a normal mole usually has one colour but melanoma moles have lots of different shades of black, brown, white, red, and pink.

- with an irregular or ragged edge – moles are usually circular or oval with a smooth border as they grow evenly.

- that are bleeding, itchy, red, inflamed or crusty.

- that become a lot bigger – most moles are the width of a pencil or smaller.

It’s useful to use the ABCDE method to ensure you have considered all aspects of your moles. If you notice any of the following, then you should consult your doctor or dermatologist:

A – asymmetry, when one half of your moles doesn’t look like the other half.

B – border irregularity, a mole with a scalloped or blurred border.

C – colour change, a mole that has more than one colour, uneven colouring or becomes darker is an indicator that it may be becoming cancerous.

D – diameter, more than 6mm or 1/4 inch. However, a malignant mole can be smaller, and a benign mole can be larger.

E – elevated (raised) or enlarged, size, shape, or colour changes over time and becoming raised above the skin’s surface and inflamed and swollen.

You should also look out for new bothersome symptoms including bleeding, itching or crusting.

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