1/22/12

Are Purple Moles Normal or Possible Cancer?

Do you have a purple mole? If so, are you worried that your mole has cancer because it's purple? 

I consulted with Maria M. Tsoukas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor, Dermatology Section, University of Chicago. Dr. Tsoukas explains, "The color of a mole may vary within normal ranges, and purple color may not necessarily mean harmful or harmless mole."

Thus, a normal mole may indeed appear to be purple. So if the question is, "Does a purple mole mean cancer?" then the bigger question should be: Has your mole always been purple? If it's been this color for years, then you can assume that this is the normal nature of the skin spot.

On the other hand, if the mole has recently taken on a purple color -- get it examined by a dermatologist. When a mole changes color, this can signal melanoma skin cancer, the deadliest skin cancer, with a very low five-year survival rate once this skin cancer has spread to other sites in the body.

Dr. Tsoukas explains, "The colors that we see are based on optics in human skin with regards to structures existing under our skin. As a general rule, red hue is due to vascular network lying in the top layers of our skin. Pigmented cells located deep in our skin may cause a bluish appearance. In examination of moles we are also using, along with clinical observation, dermoscopy where we have now established certain patterns of moles. However, confirmation is obtained by biopsy of mole and examination under microscope."

Normal moles can come in the following colors: tan to dark brown and any shade in between; flesh colored; pink; blue; and black.

The color of a mole should be uniform. If there is change in color, that's when to be concerned and make an appointment with a dermatologist. Melanoma can present in the following colors: flesh toned, white, red, blue, pink, purple, tan to dark brown, black and grey. "Therefore, color of mole cannot confirm with regards to benign or malignant growth."

A melanoma can be comprised of several of these colors. The key again is if the pigmented spot has been changing in color. If you're not sure if that purple spot on your skin has always been there, or whether or not the skin lesion has always been purple as opposed to another color, then play on the safe side and have a dermatologist look at it.

Also, what you think is a purple mole might actually be another type of skin lesion, such as a seborrheic keratosis, a benign skin lesion or barnacle that's completely harmless. "That's why you need to seek medical advice to confirm," says Dr. Tsoukas.

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