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When a Mole Is Not a Mole: How to Tell if It Might Be Melanoma

Summertime is for swimming, sunbathing, hiking and barbequing. Something that virtually all of the best summer activities have in common is that they’re all done in the sun. While you probably try your best to put sunscreen on before spending time outside, there are always times where you forget or don’t realize you’ll be exposed for a significant amount of time. Without fail, mysterious spots always seem to appear at the end of each summer. Many of these spots are really just harmless moles or freckles, but sometimes they can be something much worse.

Before you start checking your body in a panic, remember your ABCDE’s: 

  1. Asymmetrical: Benign moles are typically a consistent shape throughout, but cancerous moles are often uneven. For example, if you were to draw a line in the middle of the mole, do both sides match? If they look more like sisters than twins, there is a higher risk of developing melanoma. 
  1. Border: If a mole has an irregular edge or the pigment isn’t contained within its borders, this could be a warning sign. Typical moles have a solid, smooth border without spreading pigment.
  1. Color: Moles are typically a solid brown or black color; there is cause for concern if you’re observing a spot on your body that looks different than that. Cancerous moles can have various shades of browns or blacks, or they can appear red, pink, white or blue. However, it is important to note that some cancerous moles, like amelanotic melanoma, can show up skin-colored. If you’re unsure if the color of your mole seems off, try comparing it to the other moles nearby.
  1. Diameter: This is a case where bigger isn’t always better. Cancerous moles will usually increase in size overtime. Although some melanomas can be very small, most of them are larger than ¼ of an inch across. Use an eraser on top of a pencil for comparison.
  1. Evolving: This last letter might be the most important. Above all, if you notice your mole has changed in size, shape or color, this could be an indication that it is cancerous. Additionally, be sure to look at the elevation of the mole because growth above the skin could signify that there is growth underneath the skin too.

Additional Warning Signs

 

Woman having mole checked

 

Skin cancer isn’t a one-size-fits-all diagnosis. In addition to the ABCDE’s, tell your doctor if you see:

  • Sores that aren’t healing
  • New spots
  • Swelling near the border of a mole
  • Spots that are itchy or painful and don’t get better within a week
  • A mole that’s oozing, scaly or bleeding

Types of Skin Cancer

The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The key to all three types of skin cancer is early diagnosis and treatment.

Basel cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer. People with fair skin have the highest chance of developing BCC, but people of color can get it too. BCC typically appears as a flesh-colored, glossy, or pink bump. Many people get BCC after regularly spending too much time in the sun or from indoor tanning. The most common places BCC develops are on the head, neck and arms. Because BCC can grow deep into the skin, it can affect the nerves and bones if it goes undiagnosed.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the second most common type of skin cancer. Similar to BCC, those with fair skin have the highest chance of developing SCC, but people of color can get it too. SCC can appear in a couple different forms: a red bump, a flaky patch, or a sore that doesn’t heal properly. Commonly discovered on the ears, face, neck, arms, chest, or back, SCC typically develops in areas of high sun exposure. SCC also has the chance of causing additional health problems and possible disfigurement due to its ability to penetrate deep into the skin.

Melanoma is less common but it’s a name you want to remember because it’s the most serious. Not only does it have a tendency to spread, it can develop within a mole you already have or appear suddenly on the skin looking unlike the other moles on the body. Melanoma is one example of why it’s crucial to investigate evolving moles.

Prevention

 

People sunbathing

 

The good news is skin cancer is extremely preventable if you’re practicing sun safety. The first cardinal rule of skin cancer prevention is absolutely under no conditions are you to use a tanning bed. UV-B and UV-A rays can damage the skin and lead to skin cancer; unfortunately, tanning bed lamps omit both.

We often think about wearing sunscreen on sunny days, but the sun can damage your skin on cloudy days too. Generally, if the UV index meets or exceeds 3, your skin needs to be protected. On those days, make sure you’re wearing sunscreen on your face and body. Many makeup brands offer foundation or moisturizers containing SPF, making it even easier to look good while staying safe. As for the rest of your body, make sure you’re diligent on lathering up with SPF 30 or more before leaving the house.   

What About My Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is known as the sunshine vitamin, but, to get the amount you need to maintain healthy levels, you need to be exposed for at least 30 minutes without wearing sunscreen. If you’re routinely lathering up before you head outside, you’re likely not getting enough sun exposure to sustain your vitamin D levels.

If the body isn’t getting vitamin D from the sun, it needs to get it somewhere else. Unlike some nutrients, it’s nearly impossible to get enough vitamin D from food. Smarter Nutrition vitamin D3 is formulated with vitamin K2 to help direct calcium into your bones rather than your arteries and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) to help make both vitamins easier for the body to absorb. Plus, it’s made from plants unlike some brands that derive their vitamin D from animal by-products. 

Check Yourself Regularly

The bottom line is to check your skin from head to toe for the ABCDE’s every month to three months. If you notice any abnormalities, give your doctor a call. Otherwise, see a dermatologist once a year for a professional skin assessment.

 

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