Spot Your Spot: A Guide to Identifying Moles
Skin spots are a common concern among Australians, as the harsh southern sun can do severe damage to the dermis. When spots appear, there is often a concern they might be cancerous, prompting many men and women to head to their doctors for an assessment. If the mole or lesion is unusually large or in a conspicuous location, removal may also be considered even if the blemish is benign. Understanding the different types of moles and lesions that frequently appear on the skin is the first step in maintaining a healthy, beautiful complexion.
What is a Mole?
A mole is a raised discolouration on the surface of the skin, most commonly found in areas that receive ample sun exposure. They occur when skin cells grow in a cluster, rather than spread through the dermis like normal cells. The cells that form the mole are called melanocytes and are responsible for producing melanin or pigmentation colouring in the skin. While many moles develop after exposure to UV rays, people are also born with moles. Those with fair skin tend to have the most moles, with the average person sporting 40 or more on various areas of the body.
Types of Moles
There are a variety of moles (nevi) that you might experience throughout your lifetime:
Congenital vs. Acquired Nevi
Congenital nevi or moles are present at birth while acquired moles develop during childhood or early adulthood. While congenital nevi are not attributed to sun exposure, they can become malignant over time and should be monitored regularly for any possible changes. Acquired moles are caused by sun exposure and may also become malignant over time.
Junctional Melanocytic Nevi
These moles get their name because they are located where the dermis and the epidermis meet. They typically form in childhood and early adulthood and can migrate deeper into the dermal layers over time. This type of mole is found on the face, trunk, arms and legs, soles of the feet or the genitals.
Also forming during late childhood or early adulthood, this type of mole differs in that it is usually flesh-coloured instead of brown. In this case, the melanocytes collect underneath the skin’s surface, pushing the outer dermal layers up to create the flesh-coloured bump. These lesions usually have an even pigmentation on the raised mark.
These types of moles include characteristics from both junctional and intradermal nevi. Pigmentation of these markings is uniform and the bump is typically raised.
These moles often cause the most concern because they tend to be larger than average and their edges are not as defined. This type of mole is more likely to evolve into melanoma, so they should be monitored by a healthcare professional, so changes can be addressed right away.
In addition to the different types of moles, you might also notice other types of spots appear on your skin. These markings can pose a significant cosmetic problem as well, which is why patients often want to have them removed. These skin spots might include:
The technical term for freckles is ephelides. These small brown spots are usually found in clusters on visible areas of the body and typically form and darken when exposed to UV rays. Most freckles are harmless and will not turn to cancer. Lentigines Brown spots on the skin, also known as age or liver spots, are a common by-product of the ageing process as well as sun exposure. They are flat, rather than taking on the raised appearance of a mole, and they can grow rather large. When someone has many lentigines, it is an indication of excessive sun exposure, which could also be an increased risk for skin cancer.
These raised spots are typically darker in colour, resembling a standard mole. However, these growths tend to have a rougher texture than the smooth surface of a mole. The markings are not cancerous and will not turn to cancer. However, because they can resemble some types of skin malignancies, they should be examined by a healthcare professional.
Is Your Mole Safe?
Most moles are not cancerous, but that may not stop you from worrying if you notice a new marking appear. New spots should be evaluated by a physician, as well as spots that change over time. To determine whether a mole might be malignant, it is important to assess the mark for four features, known as ABCD:
- Asymmetry – if the two sides of the mole are not even, malignancy is more likely
- Border – moles with irregular, undefined borders are more apt to be cancerous
- Colour – benign moles typically have a uniform colour throughout
- Diameter – the larger the mole, the more vital it is to have the mole assessed for malignancy
Of course, whenever you are concerned about a spot on the skin, an assessment by a specialist will put your concerns at rest and help you determine whether treatment is necessary.
Whether you choose to have a spot removed for medical or cosmetic reasons, the primary goal is to eliminate the blemish with minimal residual scarring. Dr Damon Thomas offers a variety of procedures for this purpose, from surgical excision to light therapies that target the melanin in the marking. To learn more about removal techniques, or to schedule an assessment of your skin spot, contact Dr Thomas’s office today on 03 9508 9508.