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Dr. Steven Williams in Boise, Idaho

31Dec

When Moles Become Dangerous: 4 Warning Signs

Dr. Steve Williams | moles, biopsy | General Surgery | | View Counts (1334) |Return|

Many people have moles (or nevi), which are areas of skin pigmentation that can exist from birth or develop later in life. Not to be confused with freckles, moles can be on any area of the body from scalp to toe. They are darker than the skin tone on the rest of a person's body. People with fair skin can have more moles, or the pigmented areas might be more noticeable on those people because of the contrast with the skin color. Most moles are harmless. But there are times to address moles when they are suspicious for cancer. Melanoma is a lethal cancer that has been on the increase. It can only be cured by surgical excision of the site of the cancer. The sooner that the cancer is removed, before it spreads within the lymph nodes, the better the chance of survival for the patient.

Here are four warning signs.

1. Color

A mole (or nevus) can present as a range of colors from lighter to darker. A common color is between light brown and dark brown. But when a mole either changes in color or is an unusual color, it is wise to take precautions by making an appointment with your doctor.

2. Darkness

Moles that are much darker than the rest of your skin tone can be a concern. Pigmentation of the moles, or nevi, just as pigmentation of the skin causes them to be darker.  Some very dark moles could be melanoma, a type of skin cancer.

3. Changes

Moles may exist on your skin for a long time and look the same year in and year out. But it's time to be concerned when a mole changes in some way. For example, it might start to become inflamed. This could be manifested as an itch, or a desire to scratch the area of the mole. Scratching at the mole can cause bleeding or oozing. This is a strong warning sign.  The mole might also grow in size, which is also a strong warning sign.   If there is an irritated area of the skin that persists over a month, this could represent skin cancer and should be evaluated. Some melanomas may even lack pigmentation.

4. Shape

Moles are mostly symmetrical in shape, such as shaped like a circle, although they don't have to be absolutely perfect circles. Moles that are not symmetrical are a concern. For instance, moles with irregular edges, such as jagged or blurred lines, can be ones to get checked by the doctor.

These four signs can provide a guide on what could be a concern as far as suspicious nevi (or moles).  Your primary care provider should be made aware of any areas of concern. However, general surgeons and dermatologists are specialists in the care and treatment of concerning nevi.  A biopsy of a mole usually involves complete removal of most moles and is a very straight forward procedure performed in the office. This procedure utilizes a small amount of local anesthetic and usually leaves a tiny scar or none at all.

Anyone that has a personal history or a family history of an atypical nevus or a melanoma should take extra screening precautions. A good idea is to have someone else help you with monitoring areas for any changes in size, color, pigmentation, or irritation (inflammation).  Taking pictures of the affected area, such as your trunk, arms, legs, or etc. can be a very effective way to monitor for any changes over a period of time such as every 2 to 3 months.

If you develop a suspicious nevus, our office can evaluate and biopsy the area if needed. Dr. Williams also provides advanced melanoma treatment, including sentinel lymph node biopsy if needed and removal of the lymph nodes containing metastatic melanoma.

For more information, click here to read about different lumps and bumps.

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Practicing General Surgery in the Boise area since 2002