Moles: what to look out for

Posted on 29 October 2012

Dr Dilshaad Asmal, a dermatologist with rooms at Mediclinic Cape Town, uses mole-mapping technology – which involves 90% magnification – to look at any suspicious marks on the skin. ‘Mole mapping is a simple procedure and an invaluable aid,’ Dr Asmal explains. ‘It’s also an effective image-storage system so any change in lesions can be followed up.’

I have a mole that is troubling me. How can I tell whether it might be malignant?
A simple way of checking your moles is by following the Cancer Association of South Africa’s (CANSA) ABC guidelines. Look for any of the following:
• A
symmetry or an irregular shape to a mole or mark
• B
order irregularities with lacy or poorly defined edges
• C
olour variations
• D
iameter of larger than six millimetres

I’m very fair-skinned. Does that put me at greater risk?
Anyone of any colouring can get skin cancer, but you might be at greater risk if you have…
• Fair hair and light eyes
• A family member with a melanoma
• Spent a lot of time outdoors
• Been a fan of sun tanning
• Been blisteringly sunburnt three or more times as a child
• Freckles, moles and marks on your skin

Should I be checking myself and having annual check-ups?
With cancer, early detection is always best so watch your own moles. An annual check-up with an expert is also recommended. And prevention is better than cure, so use sunscreens and hats, and cover up in the sun.

What are the different types of skin cancer and how are they treated?
There are three types of skin cancer that all begin in the outer layer of your skin, the epidermis:
• Basal-cell carcinoma
is the most common type of skin cancer in fair-skinned people. It will show up as a red patch, a crusty, ulcerating sore that doesn’t heal and can bleed sometimes, or a scar-like area. You would normally find it on your face, ears, scalp, neck, or other exposed areas, but it can appear anywhere. It is a slow-growing cancer and usually doesn’t spread. It is normally surgically removed or frozen.
• Squamous-cell carcinoma
is twice as common in men as in women, and generally appears as a scaly red patch or pink opaque bump that can form ulcers in the centre. It appears most often on the face, neck, arms, scalp or ears, and is also slow-growing – but because it can spread further in the body it’s important to zap it early with surgery or radiation.
• Malignant melanoma
is the least common but most serious type of skin cancer. It can present as freckles or brown, black or multicoloured patches with an irregular outline. These may crust and bleed, and could crop up in moles or skin spots. Melanoma spreads quickly and is largely responsible for skin-cancer-related deaths, so it’s vital to catch and treat it early.



The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Cancer

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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