The problem with diagnosing moles and weeding out the potentially harmful from the benign is that moles are incredibly common. In fact, nearly everyone in the United States has at least one common mole, and those who do typically have several.
Common moles are harmless and very rarely develop into skin cancers. However, the distinction between a common mole and one that may be a sign of something serious can be nearly impossible to determine—especially through the untrained eye. This is why we always recommend that patients undergo an annual total body skin exam (TBSE) to screen for potentially cancerous moles and other growths.
We know that common moles are nothing to be concerned about, and obviously, cancerous moles are serious and require removal and possible secondary treatment. But what about the in-between moles? What if you’re diagnosed with an atypical mole?
What is an Atypical Mole?
A common mole is classified as a small brown growth on the skin with clear borders, uniformity of color, and a symmetrical appearance. Sometimes moles can show atypical characteristics such as irregular borders or variation in color or protrusion from the skin. When moles show these characteristics, it is often recommended that a biopsy be performed to identify the classification of moles and to check for any possible skin cancer development.
More often than not, these moles are classified as atypical moles (or dysplastic nevi). Atypical moles are, by definition, non-cancerous. However, the development of one or more atypical moles can be cause for concern.
The Problem with Atypical Moles
While atypical moles are benign, they do carry a few warning signs that should be taken seriously. The first is that—while rare—atypical moles can develop into skin cancers in the future. This is especially worrisome when melanoma develops, as this form of cancer can be life-threatening.
The second issue with atypical moles is that studies have found that patients with one or more atypical moles are at a much greater risk for developing skin cancer in their lifetime. Other risk factors, such as a person’s family history with melanoma and the amount of sun damage they have been subjected to in their lifetime can drastically increase the chances of skin cancer.
Early Diagnoses Lead to Early Treatment and Cure
If you have any concerns regarding a mole on your body, don’t hesitate to seek the advice of a dermatologist. Vanguard co-founder, Board-certified Dermatologist, and Fellowship-trained Mohs
Surgeon, Dr. Vinh Chung, shares: “If something looks odd, changes rapidly, or just does not look like the other spots on your body, then have it evaluated. If it is something that requires treatment, then you’ll be glad to have it treated early. If it is benign, you will at least have peace of mind.”
Furthermore, Dr. Chung goes further in reminding us that “We all have moles. Most moles are benign, and we go through our entire life not worrying about them. However, some moles can turn bad. They could become melanoma. My job is to distinguish between those moles that are benign and those that could harm you.”
Due to the fact that some dangerous moles can be so difficult to diagnose, it is always best to trust a dermatologist to evaluate possible concerns. There are, however, some steps that we can all take at home to keep a close eye on our moles. As our Dermatopathologist and Board-certified Dermatologist, Dr. Michael Leslie, states: “Patients should look for moles that have different colors, shapes, or atypically larger sizes. The most worrisome is a mole that is changing or evolving over time.”
If you have a family history of skin cancer or if it has been a while since you’ve had a mole check, contact Vanguard Skin Specialists today to schedule your total body skin exam. As Dr. Chung says: “It’s always better to treat it earlier rather than later. Early diagnosis leads to early treatment and early cure.”