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Skin Cancer

How to Recognize Cancerous Moles

Most of us have at least a few moles on our bodies. Ordinary moles are benign or non-cancerous tumors that develop on our skin. These growths are extremely common and perfectly harmless. That said, even the most benevolent-looking mole has the potential to become dangerous, and even life-threatening if not properly monitored. Moles are commonly linked to several types of cancer, including the deadliest form of skin cancer — melanoma. Early detection is critical to the successful treatment of these afflictions, so it���s important that you monitor any skin growths for danger signs, no matter how insignificant they may be. Here���s a guide to help you recognize these warning signals.

Melanocytes
Understanding your skin will help you spot cancerous moles and treat them properly. The skin is comprised of several layers, each serving a different purpose. The outermost layer is called the epidermis ��� a thin veil that protects the other layers. Inside the epidermis is�� melanin, which produces a colored chemical designed to protect the skin. Usually, these cells are spread throughout the epidermis, creating a tan when exposed to the sun���s rays. Sometimes, however, groups of melanocytes clump together forming a darker growth, called a mole. These can be flat or raised, round or oval and are usually pink, brown or tan in color.

Sometimes, a type of serious cancer called melanoma can grow in a melanocyte. While these growths may look similar to ordinary moles, they are different and can be highly dangerous. They exhibit specific warning signals which distinguish them from more benign skin growths. Recognizing these signs is crucial to detecting the cancer early-on.

Inspect moles
Just like proper exercise and diet, regular inspection of your moles is an important part of staying healthy ��� particularly if you have a large number of moles or a family history of skin cancer. Using a mirror, you���ll need to inspect each mole once a month and take note of any irregularities you may find.

One of the most obvious signs is an irregularity in the shape of the mole. This can be checked by placing ruler down the middle of the mole to check if it is asymmetrical. Individuals should also be on the lookout for moles with rough or scalloped borders, or those larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter. While changes in the shape or color of a mole can often be harmless, they may also signal the growth of something more insidious.

See a doctor
If you notice any of the warning signs described above, you should receive a thorough medical inspection immediately. While it may be nothing to worry about, it���s always best to err on the side of caution when dealing with skin cancer. In many cases, a dermatologist will test a small sample of skin to determine whether the mole is benign or not. If a mole is deemed dangerous, it may need to be removed before cancer begins to spread.