An ordinary mole can turn into skin cancer – here’s how to tell the difference
Whether you’ve had a mole since you can last remember or one is recently emerging, you’re always a little worried that it could be something worse. People worry that their moles might be a sign of skin cancer, and while it’s a sign that you are more susceptible to skin cancer, most moles are benign.
If you’re not sure whether your mole is turning into something more dangerous, you’ve come to the right place and for a good reason.
The Dangers of Moles, Skin Cancer, and Melanoma
Malignant moles are a result of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. This kind of cancer is estimated to take 9,730 lives in 2017, meaning someone dies from it every 54 minutes. This type of skin cancer is rare but is the cause of most skin cancer deaths.[i] This means checking up on it and taking care of yourself is critical when moles appear.
Melanoma is a tumor made from melanin cells, the pigment in our body that gives us our skin color.[ii] It is important to protect our skin from risk factors like the sun, which might promote mutations in these cells that live in our pigment.
How do I Protect Myself From Melanoma?
How to Identify a Cancerous Mole:
If you are wondering if you have a cancerous mole there are some ways to identify it, also known as the “ABC(DE)” check:[iii]
Asymmetry: if the mole has an irregular shape
Border: if the edges of the mole are undefined, faded or messy
Color/: look out for multiple colors, redness, or if there is any bleeding or discharge.
Diameter: size matters — if the mole is bigger than the diameter of a triple ‘A’ battery
Evolving: monitor if it is changing size, color, or shape. Normal moles stay the same.
How to Help Protect Against Skin Cancer
Eat Foods With Anti-Oxidants
Identifying melanoma is crucial, but you want to stop it before it gets to that point. Diet can be very beneficial to preventing cancer. Free radicals damage can lead to cell mutations and cancerous cells; to slow them down, eat foods full of antioxidants.[iv]
Foods full of antioxidants are:
Tea (green tea and matcha have some of the highest antioxidant contents, followed by black tea, and then herbal teas)[vii]
These foods can be easily eaten and made, so adding them to your routine is a good way to help prevent free-radicals from developing cancers in sensitive areas like around moles.
Practicing sun safety is your first defense against skin cancer. Especially if you have a fair complexion or burn easily, make sure to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen, and reapply frequently. When you have a mole or several moles, the important thing is to cover it from the sun as it can mutate the cells in your pigment and create melanoma.
Sun and ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a significant factor in whether your moles will become cancerous or not. The International Agency for Research on Cancer equates tanning beds and the sun with cigarettes when it comes to causing cancer.[v] Therefore, the vulnerable moles on your body are weak spots and make you more susceptible to getting cancer. Use sunscreen, wear a shirt outside, and stay protected from the sun whenever you can.
In some countries like Brazil and Australia, indoor tanning is banned because of the risks associated with it. It is important for people with moles to shield them from the sun to avoid any escalation. [vi]
Moles can be a sign of melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. It’s important to see the signs early for treatments to be most effective. Take other precautions to make sure new malignant moles do not emerge such as practicing sun safety, and eating antioxidant-rich foods.
Lastly, if you are in doubt about whether your mole is cancerous or not, ask a doctor. It might just save your life.
[i] Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics – SkinCancer.org. Skincancerorg. 2017. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[ii] Melanoma Treatment. National Cancer Institute. 2017. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/melanoma-treatment-pdq#link/_1. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[iii] Learn to Screen Your Moles for Skin Cancer. WebMD. 2017. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/screening-moles-cancer#1. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[iv] Antioxidants: Beyond the Hype. The Nutrition Source. 2017. Available at: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/antioxidants/#the. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[v] Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics – SkinCancer.org. Skincancerorg. 2017. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[vi] Skin Cancer Facts & Statistics – SkinCancer.org. Skincancerorg. 2017. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts. Accessed March 2, 2017.
[vii] Antioxidant and antibacterial properties of green, black, and herbal teas of Camellia sinensis. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249787/. Accessed March 3, 2017.