Most everyone develops moles on their skin, and most are harmless. Ignoring your moles isn’t a good idea, however, considering that changes and certain traits could indicate the presence of cancer. And compared to other cancers, skin cancer is the most common form in the United States, affecting one in five people by age 70.
Ali Hendi, MD, and his dedicated team of professionals, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, can determine if your moles are benign or potentially dangerous during a comprehensive skin evaluation. In this blog, Dr. Hendi explains the basics of moles, the signs that a mole could be cancerous, and the treatment options that are available.
Typical and atypical moles
There are two basic kinds of moles: typical and atypical. Here’s a breakdown of these skin growths:
Typical moles, also called common moles, develop when pigment cells, known as melanocytes, form in clusters. Furthermore, a typical mole is usually round and has the same size and color throughout.
On average, adults have 10-40 typical moles. And, you can have typical moles your whole life without any medical causes for concern. Only in rare cases does a typical mole evolve into cancer.
Atypical moles, on the other hand, look different from typical moles. Rather than have a consistent color, size, and round shape, they often change over time.
Traits of an atypical mole may include:
- Asymmetrical shape
- Blurred or jagged edges
- Cracks or bleeding
- Especially light or dark color
- Larger size, usually bigger than a pencil erase
- Raised surface
- Uneven color
Any one of these traits could be a sign of cancerous or precancerous cells.
What to do about an abnormal mole
If you’ve noticed a questionable mole, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. This is especially true if you have risk factors for skin cancer, such as light skin and eyes, a history of tanning or sunburns, or a family history of the disease.
During your skin evaluation, Dr. Hendi assesses the mole and, if needed, orders a biopsy. During a biopsy, some or all of the mole is removed and then sent to a lab for testing.
If your results reveal cancerous or precancerous cells, your treatment options may include:
- Shave removal
- Mohs surgery
Dr. Hendi specializes in Mohs surgery. With this outpatient procedure, Dr. Hendi removes a thin layer of tissue and examines it under a microscope. If there are cancer cells present, then he removes another thin layer.
He continues this process until he removes a layer in which there are no cancer cells present. With this method, he can preserve as much healthy tissue as possible. Mohs procedures are especially helpful for preventing skin cancer recurrence.
Skin cancer survival and moving forward
Thankfully, even the most dangerous type of skin cancer, melanoma, has a high survival rate when it’s treated early. And, the most common skin cancers — basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma — are significantly less lethal. In either case, early treatment can stave off serious complications, such as the cancer’s spread and the need for more invasive treatments.
If you have risk factors for skin cancer or have a cancerous mole removed, Dr. Hendi may recommend routine skin cancer surveillance with his team, or a trusted colleague, to ensure that any additional signs are detected early. These painless appointments involve a full visual evaluation of your skin, from your scalp to the soles of your feet.
Regardless of your mole’s specifics, our team is here to help. To learn more about inspecting moles or to see if you need treatment, call 301-812-4591 or book an appointment online with the practice of Ali Hendi, MD, today.