1/22/12

Melanoma Skin Cancer: When Changing Moles Are Benign

Melanoma: What can cause a mole to change besides skin cancer? We've been alarmed by the media when it comes to changing moles: See your doctor immediately if you have a changing mole to rule out skin cancer. 
The words changing mole can dredge up the deepest fear in many people: skin cancer. Melanoma skin cancer kills about 9,000 Americans yearly. Skin cancer can also disfigure.

So what can cause a mole to change besides skin cancer? If 1,000 people have a changing mole, how many will have skin cancer?

If you have this situation, you should immediately make an appointment with a dermatologist. But what can cause this issue besides skin cancer?

Causes of a changing mole that aren't skin cancer:

Follicular irritation. Some moles (also known as "nevi," which is pronounced "Levi," and the singular is nevus) have a hair growing out of them. If the follicle, from which the hair grows, becomes irritated, this can cause the top layer of the nevus to flake off.

The entire layer could be gone in under two weeks: a rapidly changing mole that can scare the pants off of anyone conscious of skin cancer. This actually happened to me; the mole was removed by a dermatologist and biopsied; result was normal.

Lighting and shadows. It's amazing how lighting-changes can create the illusion of a changing mole. Make sure that you always check your nevi in the exact same location of the house, and always under the same lighting conditions. 

This means the same number of lights are used that shine above the sink mirror, for instance, or the dimmer switch is always on all the way.

Same time of day is best, and make sure light from a window is the same (i.e., curtains always drawn, or shade always up, etc.)

Variations in lighting can make a mole look like it's changing, in that it will appear lighter or darker than usual, due to lighting fluctuations.

A light source above can also create illusion that the top-half of the mole's border has developed a white outline.

This is something you may have never noticed before, and because of that, the mole is "changing" and you fear skin cancer. Skin cancer can turn parts of a mole white. 

When examining, examine from the same angles. A change in angle can result in the appearance of a partially white border, created by a bright light source above.

More causes that aren't skin cancer:

Body position. Some moles, due to location, require some body contortion to get the best view. Or do they? Be aware of body contortions.

One day a mole on my back appeared to be smaller and rounder: changing. It took a few days for me to figure out that it "became" smaller and rounder when both shoulders were relaxed. Historically, I had viewed it (during monthly skin exams) with one shoulder jutted up and forward, my back slightly twisted.

The mole is on my back and thus, I somewhat contorted myself, while sitting on the sink, to get the best, head-on view.

But this twisting and uneven shoulders stretched the skin, thereby "expanding" the mole and lessening its naturally round shape. I was used to seeing it this way. 

So on the day I just happened to view it with a straight back and no jutting shoulder, it was actually its normal shape.

But because I wasn't used to viewing it this way, I thought the mole was changing. Always use the same body position when examining in hard-to-view locations.

Hair. I noticed that the top of a mole on my back was white, but not the same kind of white as mentioned prior. I had never noticed this before.

After a number of examinations at different angles, I discovered that the white was actually the bright light glinting off a hair just above the mole!

I then began spotting other "white" hairs nearby. If I angled my back a certain way, the white part morphed into a full-fledged hair.

The human back is full of hairs if you look closely. My back looks completely void of hair until I look closely, and then I see a ton of very short, very light hairs. This mole just happened to be smack under a hair.

Soap. One day I noticed a mole on my thigh looked a little different and had a whitish tinge to it. It had a line down the middle I'd never seen before.

The mole isn't that big, but I could discern a line or divider down its center. I placed my finger on it and felt texture. I'd never been able to feel it before. A mole can change by becoming elevated and changing color.

I then rubbed my finger across it and it instantly changed, appearing more like it always had. I rubbed several times, and the white kind of flaked off it, and voila, it appeared the way it always had.

I then realized that earlier that day, soap suds had cascaded down my legs, and the mole was smack in the path. The whitish tinge and divider line had been caused by dried soap.

Skin cancer can be disfiguring, not to mention deadly, with melanoma skin cancer killing about 9,000 Americans annually. Source: cdc.gov/cancer/skin/statistics/race.htm

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