The average person has between 30 and 40 moles, while some people can have as many as 600. Most of these moles are completely normal, but not all of them are so harmless. Some moles can are actually something more dangerous: skin cancer. Here's what you need to know about this dangerous condition.
What do normal moles look like?
It's not always easy to distinguish a normal, healthy mole from a skin cancer, but there are a few general rules that doctors use to tell them apart. Most healthy moles are small, and should be no bigger than a pencil eraser. In addition, they are round, even, and smooth. Moles that look like this are usually not a health issue, though you may want to have them removed if you don't like how they look.
What does skin cancer look like?
Skin cancer can vary a lot in appearance since there are different types of skin cancer. It can look like a small scab that keeps healing and reappearing, it can look like a peeling, bleeding wart, or it can be dark, flat, and irregularly shaped.
If you have a mole that isn't small, round, and smooth, you may have a problem, and need to have a dermatologist examine the mole.
How common is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. More people have been diagnosed with skin cancer in the last 30 years than have been diagnosed with all other cancers combined. About 5 million people receive treatment for it every single year.
About 1 in 5 people will develop skin cancer. Among seniors, the risks are even higher. As many as 50% of people over 65 will get skin cancer at least once.
How is skin cancer treated?
There are many possible treatments for skin cancer. Surgical removal of the cancerous mole is usually the first step. If the mole is not in a visible part of your body, the surgeon will cut it out and take some of the healthy tissue from all sides as well, just to make sure that all of the cancer is gone. If the mole is in a visible place, like on your face, the surgeon will need to be more careful. The mole will be removed in thin layers while the surgeon views the area through a microscope. This method allows the surgeon to remove only the cancerous tissue, minimizing scarring.
Chemotherapy may also be necessary. Chemotherapy for some types of skin cancer can be given in lotion form, while for other types, you'll need pills or injections.
Can skin cancer come back?
Surgeons try their best to remove every single cancer cell, but sometimes, they miss a few. These cells can grow and spread, and eventually, your cancerous mole will be back. If this is going to happen, it usually happens in the first 2 years after the mole removal.
The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, does not have a high recurrence rate. If it is removed traditionally, it has a 10.1% chance of returning, and if it's removed with microscopic surgery, it only has a 1% chance of returning.
Squarmous cell carcinoma has a similar recurrence rate, provided that the cancer didn't grow too deeply into the skin. Deep cancers are harder to remove, and have a 50% chance of recurrence.
Most moles are harmless (though you may not find them attractive), but not all of them are. Some moles are actually cancerous growths, and need to be removed right away. If you are worried about your moles, click here and make an appointment with a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening right away.