What are moles, when should you check them and how can you check them?

How do moles develop?

During the first three months in the womb, your skin gets invaded by melanocytes â?? cells from neural or nerve origin. These can make the pigment called melanin, and they are known as melanocytes.

A mole is a cluster of these melanocytes growing together and their existence appears to be determined before birth. Most are harmless and have developed by the time you are 20 years old.

Most people have between 10 and 40. The large ones with many colours have a much greater chance of becoming cancerous than normal, even, round or oval ones.

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 Melanomas are the most serious type of skin cancer

 Melanomas however are the most serious type of skin cancer and the causes are not 100% sure, although radiation from sunlight, tanning and sunbeds greatly increases your risk of developing a melanoma.

It is important to remember that they can be successfully treated if caught early. Sun exposure stimulates melanocytes and not only the ones in the exposed areas because melanocytes are from nerve tissue origins.

What causes the change from benign to melanoma?

When the DNA mutates and atypical cells form that then multiply, a cancer is formed – the fact is that melanomas do not always come from within a mole â?? they can appear anywhere on the body â?? even under nails.

You have to watch the skin for any new mark, even if small, as melanomas can be tiny.

Where moles are concerned increased risks include:

Having larger moles at birth – these are called congenital nevi or giant hairy nevi
Moles that run in families â?? larger than 6 mm (about the diameter of a pencil eraser) â?? which may often look like a fried egg with different colours and uneven borders â?? can double your risk
Having more than 50 moles also puts you at greater risk
Fair skin
History of sunburn â?? one or more blistering sunburns (most damage occurs before the age of 18)
Excessive sun exposure â?? our surfers, golfers and fishermen are especially at high risk.
Sunny climates
Family history of melanoma
Weakened immune system â?? people on chemotherapy or cortisone treatments
Carcinogens â?? coal tar, creosite used to preserve wood, and pesticides containing arsenic
For men, the head, neck shoulders and back, and for women the lower leg poses highest risks

Check your moles with the Mole Mate
What does the Mole Mate do and why is it unique?

It is a highly specialised scanning device that can look  into the skin and assess a mole for characteristics of melanoma without being invasive, what makes is unique is the fact that it can look 2mm deep, it’s not just a superficial assessment. This is the only machine in KZN.

What are the options with a ‘suspicious’ mole?

Other factors like history of sun exposure, whether the person has ever had melanoma or a family history of melanoma then have to also be brought into the equation. A decision can then be made on whether to do a biopsy on the mole or whether you want to watch and monitor the mole again after a few months.

When should you start checking your moles?

1. In sunny climates like Durban I would suggest now for anyone who loves the outdoors and is over the age of 25
2. If you’ve ever burned to the point of blistering
3. If you have any signs or symptoms such as: pain, itching, burning, oozing or bleeding, scaling or crusting, any sudden changes in size, shape, colour or elevation.

You can also do a home check  on whether lesions are suspicious by using the ABCDE system:
A asymmetry
B Border â?? irregular
C Colour 
D diameter ( > 6mm)
E : evolving – changes
Clinic Reju can check you moles for you with the Mole Mate. The cost for around 10 moles is R500.00 for the screen.

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.