Cancerous Moles, Precancerous, Suspicious, Signs, Causes, Pictures, ABCDEs. Stages, Removal, Treatment & Prevention

Apparently, cancerous moles are the most dangerous form of skin cancer. But what causes them and what are their risk factors. And what are the signs and symptoms of cancerous moles?  How do you deal with suspicious or precancerous moles? Read on to also discover important facts about stages and diagnosis of Cancerous moles. Furthermore, learn about the removal, treatment and prevention of cancerous moles.

Can A Mole be Cancerous?

What is a mole? A mole or skin mole is a small colored spot on the skin made up of abnormally clustered melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells in your skin that produce melanin which gives your skin the natural the color (pigment). Commonly known as skin moles, Moles can develop on any part of your skin, individually or in groups. Moles have various colors especially pink, red-brown, dark or black. They also have various sizes, shapes and textures. You can develop raised moles or flat moles that may be hairy or not hairy.

Moles may exist as birthmarks or develop later after birth. The various causes of moles, including hereditary, health, environmental and physiological factors. There are many types of moles based on their origin, nature, and appearance. But moles should not be mistaken for similar growths on your skin such as freckles, warts and skin tags. It is not uncommon for you to have one or a few moles although some people have several moles. Also, some people attach psychic meanings to moles.

Usually, moles are non-cancerous (benign) growths on the skin. Non-cancerous moles are commonly referred to as normal moles.  However, moles may also be cancerous (malignant) growths. In most cases, non-cancerous moles develop into cancerous moles due to various environmental or genetic factors. A cancerous mole is medically known as malignant melanoma or simply melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Signs of Cancerous Moles

In case you have moles on your body, you need to be aware that much as they may usually be harmless to your health, they can also pose danger to your life. It even calls for more vigilance given that some moles which may appear normal may actually be potentially harmful.

In this regard, apparently harmless moles can suddenly change and become melanoma (cancerous moles). Hence you should consistently and periodically check your moles for any changes that could be dangerous signs to your health.

Therefore, it is highly recommended that you check your moles for any irregularities that might be an indication of problems like melanoma. Your self-inspection on the moles on your body should focus on the following signs of cancerous moles.

1.  Irregular Blurred Border

Cancerous moles often have often irregular and blurred borders on their outer edge. On the other hand, healthy moles have a well-defined border on their outer edge.

2.  Changing in Color

One of the common early signs of cancerous moles is a change in color. A mole that changes its color especially to dark, brown or gray or black is likely to be cancerous. Healthy moles have a constant color that does not change with time

3.  Multiple Colors

Most cancerous moles tend to have multiple colors, which do not have clear boundaries from one color to another. Typically, they have a dark color at the middle and other shades such as white, red-brown and pink, towards the outer parts of the moles. In contrast, a normal mole usually has one uniform color

4.  Irregular Shape

Cancerous moles tend to have an irregular shape. This simply means that area covered by such moles does not have a shape that forms equal and similar halves when divided through its center by a straight line.

5.  Sores Which Don’t Heal

If a mole that develops ulcer-like sores that do not heal easily or come back after healing, it might be cancerous.

6.  Large moles in size

Typically, cancerous moles tend to be large. This means that they cover a comparatively larger area on your skin which is approximately larger than 1⁄4 inch or 0.6 cm.

7.  Rough Texture

If your mole has a rugged and /or scaly and flaky texture, it could be a sign that it is cancerous.

8.  Dry and scaly

Cancerous moles tend to have a dry, scaly and flaky surface. The surface of the mole appears to be having small, dry pieces of skin.

9.  Changing in size

A mole that grows bigger or smaller is likely to be cancerous. A mole is said to have changed in size if the area it covers on the skin increases or decreases. Its size can also change perpendicularly from the skin i.e. it becomes more or less raised from the skin level.

10. Changing in Shape

If you realize that the shape of your mole is changing, it is a sign that it could be cancerous.

11. Bleeding or Oozing

Some cancerous moles bleed or ooze occasionally. This is a sign that the mole could be cancerous.

12. Irritated and Itchy

A mole that is irritated may cause discomfort and become itchy. An itchy mole produce a sensation that makes you feel like scratching it

13.  Inflamed and Painful

An inflamed mole will look red and become painful, especially when touched. This another indication that it could be cancerous.

14.  Hard and lumpy

A mole that becomes hard with small irregular bumps on its surface may be cancerous.

Pictures of Cancerous Moles

Definitely, words alone, without pictures, may not adequately describe the appearance of cancerous and non-cancerous moles. In view of the significance of cancerous moles to our health, we have inserted in this post very descriptive and illustrative pictures of cancerous moles in relevant sections. The images or photos will together with the text enable you to get complete and detailed information about cancerous moles.

Cancerous Moles vs Non-cancerous Moles

Cancer is known to be deadly and hence is dreaded a great deal. However, if discovered at early stages, it can be easily cured. The signs and symptoms of a cancerous mole as discussed above may not be easy and quick to remember and apply when examining your moles.

For this reason, dermatologists have tried to simplify the characteristics of moles into 5 easily memorable points using the acronym ABCDE. As such, these characteristics are now popularly known as the ABCDEs of melanoma (cancerous mole). The ABCDEs of melanoma makes it easy for many people to distinguish cancerous moles and non-cancerous moles and hence take a prudent decision about their moles.

ABCDEs of Melanoma

The ABCDEs of melanoma can be used easily to point out moles that are likely to be cancerous. The letters stand for the main characteristics, which summarize the typical signs and symptoms of cancerous moles as compared to non-cancerous moles. They have the following meanings:

  • A is for asymmetrical. Cancerous moles tend to have a shape in which one-half does not match the other half (Asymmetrical shape) while normal moles have a shape with matching halves (symmetrical shape).
  • B is for Border: Cancerous moles usually have irregular or ragged borders while non-cancerous ones usually have smooth regular borders.
  • C is for Color. Cancerous moles tend to change their colors or have multiple colors. In contrast, normal moles usually have one uniform color that does not undergo change.
  • D is for Diameter. Cancerous moles tend to be larger than normal moles. A mole that is larger than 1⁄4 inch or 0.6 cm is more likely to be cancerous.
  • E is for Evolving. In this case, evolving refers to any change that occurs on the moles. A mole that undergoes any change is likely to be cancerous. An evolving undergoes changes like growing bigger, changing shape, changing color or becoming itchy or inflamed. Some of these changes may take place gradually and might take place over a long period of time. So, it is prudent to closely monitor the moles in order to be able to notice the changes in the earliest opportunity.

Note that when a mole has some or most of this characteristics, it does not always mean that it is cancerous. Rather, it just means that it might be cancerous and hence it is a suspicious mole. Similarly, a mole may look normal i.e. not exhibit any or most of these symptoms but still be cancerous.

Suspicious Moles

What is a suspicious mole? This term is used commonly to describe a mole that exhibits some or all the signs and symptoms of cancerous moles. A suspicious mole is not necessarily a cancerous mole until it has been screened and found to be cancerous.

As such, a suspicious mole might be cancerous or non-cancerous. Hence it requires being screened to determine its status owing of the signs and symptoms that it displays. Suspicious moles should not be ignored at any cost. Instead, you should see your dermatologist as soon as you notice that your mole is having some or all of the signs and symptoms of a cancerous mole discussed above.

Precancerous Moles

Precancerous moles are those moles that exhibit the signs and symptoms similar to those of cancerous moles but on screening, they are found to be non-cancerous. Such a mole is medically known as an atypical mole or dysplastic mole or more commonly dysplastic Nevi. In addition, the mole may also be described as an abnormal mole in contrast to a normal mole.

Precancerous moles do not need to be removed on medical grounds because they do not at present pose any danger to your health. However, since they may bother you with itchiness, bleeding or being unsightly, it is better to have them removed. More importantly, precancerous moles are much more likely to develop into cancerous mole in future. Clearly, this is a stronger reason why they should be removed

If they are not removed, precancerous mole should be examined by the doctor from time to time to monitor their progress. This way, the dermatologist will be able to tale when they start developing cancerous cells and have them treated. However, to avoid the cumbersome and possibly expensive checkups, why don’t you have your precancerous moles removed once and for all. In any case, you will have also solved the discomfort caused by itching or bleeding moles.

Causes of Cancerous Moles

Cancerous moles develop when something goes wrong melanocytes. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin is the substance in your body that gives your skin its natural color.

When everything is alright in your skin structure, the skin cells develop in a normal way. As such, new healthy cells grow and displace older cells towards the surface of your skin. Eventually, the older skin cells die and fall off.

However, in an unusual occurrence, some of the skin cells undergo DNA damage. When this happens, new cells may develop in a way that is not orderly or controllable. The resulting uncontrolled growths that develop due to uncontrolled cell division on your skin constitutes cancerous moles.

Now, to unravel the cause cancerous moles, we simply need to ask ourselves this one question: What causes skin DNA damage on skin cells, specifically melanocytes? Doctors believe that there are various environmental and hereditary factors that cause DNA damage on skin and hence cancerous moles. These factors are highlighted in the next section under risk factors for cancerous moles.

Risk factors for Cancerous Moles.

1.  Ultra Violet Radiation (UV light)

Exposure to excessive UV light is probably the main cause of developing cancerous moles. UV radiation is a component of sunlight that is naturally present in the sun. Nevertheless, it can also be produced artificially, for example, in tanning beds and lamps. Therefore, staying too long in the sun or activities such as sunbathing can greatly increase the chances of developing cancerous moles.

2.  Living closer to the Equator

The sunlight rays at the equator experience sunlight more directly than those who live far away from the equator. Therefore, if you live closer the equator, it means that you experience relatively more UV radiation. Hence you are more likely to develop cancerous moles compared to those who live away from the equator.

3.  Vulnerability to Sunburns

If you are vulnerable to severe sunburns or sunburn blisters, you increase the chances of developing cancerous moles. Sunburns increase the chances of the DNA on your skin cells getting damaged by UV radiation from sunlight. It is important to note that sunburns are caused by the heat produced by infrared rays, which is a different component of the sunlight. UV radiation does not produce heat and hence you might not feel it at all.

4.  Nature of your skin (fair skin)

People have fair skin because they have less skin pigmentation (melanin). This means that your skin is less protected from the UV radiations that damage your cells and cause cancerous moles. In addition, if you have pale yellow or red hair and light-colored eyes, you are more likely to develop cancerous moles that people with darker complexions. People with fair skin also develop also get freckles and sunburns easily.

5.  Weak Immune System

People who have a weakened immune system are more likely to developed cancerous moles. Usually, weak immunity may arise from various diseases, conditions and poor nutrition. However, it may also be caused by certain treatment procedures and medications, for example, surgeries and organ transplants.

6.  Hereditary Factors

There are cases where developing cancerous moles is genetically predisposed by inherited characteristics. When this is the case, cancerous moles run in the family. So, if many of your blood relatives like parents, uncle, aunts or siblings have cancerous moles, it is likely to be hereditary. It follows that the chances of you developing cancerous moles are high.

7.  Having Many Moles

Many people have moles ranging from one to several. Statistically, people who have many moles on their skin tend to develop cancerous moles than those with few moles. Having 5 or more moles on your body indicates a higher risk of developing cancerous moles. Usually, some of the existing normal moles may develop into cancerous moles but you can develop new cancerous moles.

8.  Having abnormal moles

Having abnormal moles also referred to as unusual moles or dysplastic nevi increase the risk of developing cancerous moles. As we saw in an earlier section of this post, dysplastic nevus is a mole that has characteristics similar to those of a cancerous mole but is found to be cancerous upon examination and screening. In this case, it does not matter how many the moles are: they can be few or many.

Location of Cancerous Moles on the Body

For unknown reasons, a cancerous mole can be located anywhere on your skin, including the mucous membrane like inner lips. However, there are areas of your body that are more likely to develop cancerous moles. Probably this is because various parts of your body are more exposed to the environment than others. Similarly, the nature of the skin is not the same throughout the body.

Cancerous Mole on Face

Cancerous moles are common on the face. Your face is almost always exposed to the environment, including the sun. Consequently, in view of the causes of cancerous moles, you are more likely to develop cancerous moles on your face that other parts which are always covered.

Cancerous Mole on Scalp

Cancerous moles are common on the scalp or head. As with the face, your scalp is more exposed to the environment. But the sun may have slightly more effect on your scalp that even on your face because the sun meets the most parts of the head at right angles. Probably, this is why cancerous moles on scalp or head are common.

Cancerous Mole on Breast

Cancerous moles are also common on the breast, including under the breast and the nipple. When examining moles on breast, remember to check under the breast which tends to be forgotten.

Cancerous Mole on Back

Your back is another area that commonly develops cancerous moles. It might be difficult to examine moles on your back but you can ask someone to check the moles for you.

Cancerous Mole on Foot

Your foot is another likely place where cancerous moles may develop. When examining your feet for cancerous moles, remember to check the top of the foot, between fingers and on side of the foot.

Cancerous Moles on Other Parts of the Body

Cancerous moles on lips, inner lips, tongue, cheek, nose and ears. Others are found on chest, neck, shoulder, stomach, thigh, groin and legs. They also exist on arms, hands, finger and palm. You need to pay attention to these areas too: pubic area, penile shaft, scrotum , vulva, and labia

Diagnosis of Cancerous Moles

How are cancerous moles diagnosed? To determine whether a mole is cancerous or not your moles will be screened for cancer. Usually, the doctor will begin with a physical examination of the moles. In case the moles look suspicious, the doctor will request a test called mole biopsy.

Mole biopsy is a procedure that involves removing part or the whole mole from your skin and taking it to a specialist called a pathologist for examination. The pathologist then examines the part (specimen) for presence of cancer cells using advanced screening procedures.

At the end of the screening, the pathologist writes a report about the cancer status of your mole. The report usually states whether the mole is cancerous and if it is, the report further details how far cancer has developed.

There are various mole biopsy procedures that can be used to diagnose cancerous moles. The procedures are classified according to how the specimen is obtained from the mole.

  1. Punch Biopsy: In this procedure, the specimen is a round piece of skin obtained from the suspicious mole. To get it, a doctor presses a special tool with a circular blade on the mole. As a result, a circular piece of skin is ripped off the mole.
  2. Incisional biopsy: In this case, a small piece of the mole from the part which looks most suspicious is cut from the mole. It is then presented to the laboratory for screening.
  3. Excisional Biopsy: With an excisional biopsy, the whole mole is removed from your skin. It is then used as a specimen that will be analyzed to find out whether cancerous cells exist a how advanced the condition is.

The choice of the procedure used to obtain a specimen from the suspicious mole depends on the nature and condition of the moles. For example, if the mole is so huge, an excisional biopsy might not be a good choice because it will entail removing a very large body part. In such a case, either punch or incisional biopsy will be preferred.

Cancerous Mole stages

Before treatment, the stage of the cancerous mole is determined, a procedure commonly referred to as staging.  The risk profile and extent of a cancerous mole. A stage of cancer refers to the extent cancer has advanced and spread. “Each stage is based on characteristics such as tumor thickness, ulceration and the involvement of lymph nodes or organs”.

The stage of cancerous moles is important as it guides the treatment approach to be used. After the staging procedure, the status on the cancerous mole is described with numbers (1-4) depending on its advancement and extent of spread. Stage 1 is the least advanced while stage 4 is the most advanced cancer on a given mole. A cancerous mole that has not spread deeper into the skin is assigned stage 0. The five stages of cancerous moles are:

  • Stage 0: In stage 0, the cancer cells are confined within the top layer of the skin epidermis and has not spared to the inner layers (dermis).
  • Stage 1: Stage 1 cancer is without ulceration, metastases or lymph involvement. No organs have been affected
  • Stage 2. In stage 2, there is some ulceration and metastases involvement but no lymph or body organs have been affected
  • Stage 3: In this stage, the cancer has ulceration and involves metastases and lymph nodes. No body organs are involved yet
  • Stage 4: In stage 4, the cancer has spread to affect even distant lymph nodes. It has also affected some organs such as the lungs, liver and brain

Cancerous Mole Treatment

The best approach for treating cancerous moles depend on the size, stage, general health and the preferences of the patient. In case of early-stage cancerous moles, only surgical removal is usually used.

However, if the cancer cells have begun to spread to other parts surgical removal of the mole is used together with other approaches like chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The difficult to treat cancerous moles increases up the stages. Generally, stage 4 cancerous mole cannot be completely cured.

Most of the approaches used to treat cancerous moles usually have various side effects depending on the particular method used. These side effects include skin problems, fatigue, fever, chills and dehydration headaches and muscle aches.

The methods that are commonly used to treat cancerous moles are as highlighted below.

1.  Mole removal Surgery

In case a mole is diagnosed as cancerous, it is usually removed irrespective of the stage of the cancer. In case it is advanced and already spreading, other methods are used alongside mole removal.

Cancerous moles are usually removed by surgically by shave or excision procedures. However, they can still be removed by other methods such as cauterization, cryotherapy, laser surgery and radiosurgery. In addition, mole removal creams may also be used to get rid of cancerous moles.

2.  Chemotherapy

This method of treatment involves the use of drugs to kill the cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered through the veins, as pills or both. After being administered, it travels throughout your body and kills the cancer cells.

Sometimes, it has to be given through veins so that it can be restricted to the affected area only. In such cases, blood stays in your hand or leg is restricted not to move to the other parts of the body for a short time.

3.  Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy makes use of high-power energy beams like X-rays to destroy the cancer cells. This procedure is normally used to treat cancer cells that have spread from the cancerous mole to further parts of your body.

Radiation therapy is usually used after surgical removal of a cancerous mole and lymph nodes. In such cases, radiotherapy helps destroy traces of cancer cells that are spreading to other parts of the body to completely cure the cancer cells.

4.  Immunotherapy (Biological Therapy)

This is an approach that is aimed at strengthening your immune system to help your fight cancer and destroy cancer cells. The procedure uses substances which are produced by the body or similar substances produced artificially.

Some of the biological therapy used to treat cancerous moles are “interferon and interleukin-2, ipilimumab (Yervoy), nivolumab (Opdivo), and pembrolizumab (Keytruda)”[Mayo Clinic].

5.  Targeted therapy

As the term suggests, targeted therapy uses medications that are tailored to fight specific vulnerable aspects of cancer cells. They are only used when the cancerous cells have certain genetic characteristics that can be exploited by the medications.

Targeted therapy is especially used to treat advanced stages of cancerous moles. Before treatment, the cancer cells from your moles are tested to find out whether these medications can be effective.

Some of the medications that are commonly used in targeted therapy include Vemurafenib (Zelboraf), trametinib (Mekinist) and dabrafenib (Tafinlar).

Removal of Cancerous Moles

Mole removal is always necessary for treating cancerous moles. However, you do not need to wait until your moles become cancerous in order to remove them.

It is far easier, cheaper and less painful to have your moles removed in advance, especially if by prognosis they may become cancerous in future. Therefore, suspicious moles like abnormal moles (dysplastic nevi) should be removed to avert the chances of you developing skin cancer or melanoma.

Survival Rate of Cancerous Mole

The table below summarizes the survival rates per stage for cancerous mole patients after treatment and 10 years after treatment. These are just estimates and may not be used to determine an individual’s survival chances.

Stage Survival Rate (%) 10-Year Survival Rate (%)
Stage 0 100 100
Stage 1 92 – 97 86 -95
Stage 2 70 – 80 57 – 67
Stage 3 40 – 78 24 – 68
Stage 4 15 – 20 10 – 15

How to Prevent Cancerous Moles

Can cancerous moles be prevented? You can prevent or minimize the occurrence of cancerous moles by managing its risk factors which have been outlined in an earlier section of this post.

  • Spend less time in the sun or protect yourself from UV radiation using caps and umbrellas. Avoid artificial that produce UV radiations like tanning beds and lamps.
  • Maintain a strong immune system. In case your immune system is found to be weak, boost it through proper nutrition or appropriate supplements.
  • Check your body regularly for any abnormal signs of growth. In case you already have moles, periodically monitor them for any changes and have them examined by a dermatologist.
  • Have your moles removed before developing into cancerous moles, especially dysplastic Even normal moles can be removed, particularly if melanoma runs in your family or the prognosis of your moles is not good.

Our Sources and References

  1. Treating cancerous moles: http://mydermatologist.co.uk/worried-about-a-mole/skin-cancer-treatment/
  2. 10 Signs that Mole May Be Cancerous: http://www.activebeat.com/your-health/10-signs-that-mole-may-be-cancerous/
  3. Common Moles, Dysplastic Nevi, and Risk of Melanoma: https://www.cancer.gov/types/skin/moles-fact-sheet
  4. Stages of melanoma: https://www.melanoma.org.au/understanding-melanoma/stages-of-melanoma/
  5. Melanoma: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma
  6. Melanoma: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/melanoma/basics/definition/con-20026009
  7. What Are the Prognosis and Survival Rates for Melanoma by Stage?: http://www.healthline.com/health/melanoma-prognosis-and-survival-rates#overview1
  8. Signs and Symptoms of Melanoma Skin Cancer: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/melanoma-skin-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-and-symptoms.html

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