ASSOCIATES IN MEDICAL AND COSMETIC DERMATOLOGY
Crozer Medical Plaza at Brinton Lake
500 Evergreen Dr, Glen Mills, PA 19342
Suite 20: Medical & Surgical Dermatology:
484.785.3376 (DERM)
Suite 27: Cosmetic Dermatology:
484.785.7546 (SKIN)

Moles and Skin Cancer

Molesshutterstock_285334295

Moles are common. Almost everyone has a few and some people develop hundreds. Individuals with light skin tend to have more moles, with the average ranging from 10-40. Probably the single most important thing to know about moles is that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can develop in or near a mole. Some moles increase the risk of developing skin cancer, as the following section describes.

Types of Moles

Congenital Mole

When a person is born with a mole, that mole is called a congenital nevus. These moles vary in size from small to large/giant. The large/giant congenital mole (greater than 20 centimeters) has been shown to carry a higher risk of developing melanoma.  Children born with small birthmark moles should have yearly skin examinations performed by a dermatologist to evaluate for any unusual changes. Babies born with larger congenital nevi may require further imaging studies to determine the extent of the mole and surgical removal may be advisable.

Atypical Mole

Also called a dysplastic nevus, these moles are generally larger than average, (bigger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape. They tend to have uneven color with mixtures of tan, brown, red and pink. Atypical moles may run in families, but anyone may develop these moles. People with atypical moles may have an increased risk of developing melanoma.

Acquired Mole

Moles that appear after birth are called acquired moles and generally are not a cause for concern unless they appear after the age of 30. People who have more than 50 to 100 acquired moles, however, have a greater chance of developing melanoma than those with fewer moles and should have yearly skin examinations by their dermatologist.

Checking Moles: Skin Self-Exams

Performing regular skin self-exams helps people recognize the early warning signs of melanoma. We recommend that everyone perform regular skin self-exams.

Melanoma and Skin Cancershutterstock_584198926

Screening our patients for skin cancer is an extremely important part of Brinton Lake Dermatology’s practice. Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common cancers in men and women in the United States. It is predicted that approximately 1,000,000 new cases of basal and squamous cell carcinoma will be diagnosed each year. While these types of cancers are rarely fatal, they must be removed from the skin because they will continue to grow. Diagnosing these cancers at their earliest stages, preferably in a pre-cancerous state if possible, is important because removal of the cells can be performed as a simple, in-office procedure. In more advanced stages, basal or squamous cell cancers may need to be removed surgically.

Although less common, cutaneous malignant melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer. Every year, more than 50,000 people in the United States discover that they have melanoma. What is particularly troubling is that the annual number of new cases has doubled in the past 30 years, and the average age of the cancer victim has been steadily decreasing. In addition, the incidence of melanoma in young women, ages 15 to 29, has been steadily on the rise, most likely due to tanning bed usage. If detected in its early stage, melanoma can usually be treated successfully. But left undetected, melanoma can spread to internal organs and result in death. Each year, there are close to 9,000 deaths from malignant melanoma.

Who gets skin cancer?

People of all colors and races get skin cancer. Those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk. Risk factors include:  sunburns, family history of skin cancer, exposure to x-rays, weakened immune system, scarring caused by a disease or burn, and exposure to cancer-causing compounds, such as arsenic. Using indoor tanning devices, such as tanning beds and sunlamps, also increases the risk of developing skin cancer.

What does skin cancer look like?

There are different types of skin cancer, and each tends to look a bit different. The most commonly diagnosed precancers or skin cancers are discussed here.

Actinic Keratoses (AK)
These dry, scaly patches or spots are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer. In rare cases, an AK can progress to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). People who get AKs usually have fair skin. Most people see their first AKs after age 40 because AKs tend to develop after years of sun exposure. But even teenagers can have AKs if they live in sunny areas or use indoor tanning. AKs form on skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms. Because AKs increase the risk of getting SCC, AKs are usually treated.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
This is the most common type of skin cancer. It frequently looks like a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump. It can also appear as a pinkish patch of skin. Like AKs, BCC develops on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the head, neck and arms. Many BCCs also form on the trunk and lower limbs. While BCC frequently develops in people who have fair skin, it can occur in people with dark skin. BCC usually does not grow quickly, and it rarely spreads to other parts of the body. But it should be treated promptly. This cancer can invade the surrounding tissue and grow into the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
SCC is the second most common type of skin cancer. This skin cancer often looks like a firm bump, scaly patch, or an ulcer that heals and then re-opens. SCC is usually reddish in color. It tends to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms and trunk. People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC, but it can also develop in dark-skinned people, especially those who have scarring. Because SCC can grow deep, it can cause damage and disfigurement. Early treatment can prevent this and stop SCC from spreading to other areas of the body.

Melanoma
This skin cancer frequently develops in a mole or appears suddenly as a new dark spot on the skin. Either way, melanoma can be deadly. Every year, more than 8,500 Americans (nearly one person per hour) die from melanoma, making melanoma the deadliest form of skin cancer.

It is estimated that more than 120,000 Americans will develop melanoma this year. A change is often the first sign of melanoma; therefore, it is important to know where moles appear and what they look like. When detected and properly treated before it spreads, melanoma has a high cure rate. The ABCDE warning signs of melanoma can help people detect change:

The “ABCDE” of Melanoma Examination

Examine your skin on a regular basis and look for these telltale characteristics of melanoma:

    Asymmetry: One half unlike the other half.

     Border: Irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border.

    Color: Color variation — tan, brown, black, red, white or blue.

    Diameter: Size greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser), however, they can be smaller.

    Evolving: A spot that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape or color.

What are the risk factors?

Several risk factors increase a person’s likelihood of getting melanoma. One risk factor is sun exposure. It is important to protect the skin with sunscreen and clothing and never sunburn. Another risk factor is light skin. However, people with skin of color do get melanoma. In skin of color, melanoma usually appears on the palms, soles, under the nails, in the mouth or on the genitals.

A few risk factors significantly increase a person’s risk of getting melanoma. If one or more first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) has had melanoma, the risk significantly increases. Having many moles (50-100 or more) or several atypical moles also increases the risk. An atypical mole is not cancerous, but because of its different appearance, these moles need to be closely monitored for any changes. Having had melanoma also increases your chances of having additional melanomas.

Are skin exams important?

With early detection and proper treatment, the cure rate for BCC and SCC is about 95%. When melanoma is detected before it spreads, it also has a high cure rate.

Regular skin exams help people find early skin cancers. One type of skin exam is the skin self-exam. During a self-exam, people examine their own skin for signs of change. If a growth, mole, sore or skin discoloration appears suddenly, or begins to change, see a dermatologist.

People who have spent time in the sun, have a family history of skin cancer (especially melanoma), have many moles or atypical moles, or have other risk factors for skin cancer should see a dermatologist for regular skin exams. Skin cancer screening in our office involves a five to ten minute visual inspection of the patient’s entire body including the scalp, hands and feet. We will also ask you questions about any personal or family history of skin cancer, the amount of time you are typically in the sun each day and your sun protection routine. All of this information will help determine how often you should be screened for skin cancer. That frequency could range anywhere from three-month intervals to an annual screening.

Patients are also encouraged to learn as much as possible about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer so they can conduct their own skin examinations on a more frequent basis.

How can I protect myself?

Sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all skin cancers, including melanoma. You can have fun in the sun and decrease your risk of skin cancer by following some basic guidelines:

  • Generously apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more to all exposed skin. Broad-spectrum provides protection from both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.  Re-apply approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
  • Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
  • Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If your shadow is shorter than you are, seek shade.
  • Protect children from sun exposure by making sure they are playing in the shade and wearing protective clothing, and by applying sunscreen.
  • Use extra caution near water, snow and sand, as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
  • Get Vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements.
  • Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.

Check your birthday suit on your birthday

If you notice anything changing, growing or bleeding on your skin, call Brinton Lake Dermatology. Skin cancer can be very treatable if it is caught early.

With a location convenient to Southern Chester and Delaware Counties in Pennsylvania, as well as Northern Delaware, our practice is ideally located to serve patients from Glen Mills, Garnet Valley, West Chester, Chadds Ford, Kennett Square, Media, Aston, Springfield, and Newtown Square areas in Pennsylvania and patients from Wilmington, Greenville and Newark in Delaware.

Please call 484-785-DERM (3376) for an appointment.

Week of June 19th: 20% off our New Skin Care Line!

Week of June 19th: 20% off our New Skin Care Line!

All this week, enjoy a special 20% off our new BLD skin care line just announced in May. Developed in conjunction with a top pharmaceutical team, our Brinton Lake Dermatology skin care line is a results-drivenRead More...