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A Memphis Dermatologist's Take: High Risk Moles

by George Woodbury Jr. M.D. (05/23/2022)

Board-certified Dermatologists like myself continuously evaluate moles to determine whether or not they’re high risk for future development of Skin Cancer including Melanoma. Let’s take a look at key features that Dermatologists and Dermatologic Surgeons use to determine which moles promptly need to be removed for biopsy, to be tested by the Dermatopathology Lab.

The photo above shows what's called a "congenital mole," one present at birth. This one would merit close observation for color changes, in which case it would probably best be removed.

The person in the photo above would definitely benefit from regular skin cancer checks by a Board-certified Dermatologist, because he has a variety of moles with irregular colors or edges.

The mole above shows early features of Melanoma, which is a malignancy of the pigment-producing cells in the skin, the melanocytes.

The mole above has irregular shades of brown, and an irregular profile (edge), meaning that it would be best to get this lesion checked by a skincare professional: a Board-certified Dermatologist.

Well, what is a mole? A mole or nevus is a collection of pigment-producing cells in the skin: melanocytes. Melanocytes occur in the skin, protecting us from Ultraviolet Light (UV rays). The average person has between 5 and 35 moles, which generally develop between the ages of 5 and 35, though they can also be present at birth (in which case they’re called “congenital” nevi).

The lesion above has characteristic features of Melanoma: Dark color and irregular edges.

The Summer is a great time to use "Broad Spectrum Sunscreen" with an SPF of 30 or higher, and to reapply that sunscreen every 60-90 minutes when out. Why not check your family's moles, too, when you're undressed. Many spouses and partners have saved lives simply by doing a close-up inspection, and calling the alert about a changing lesion or growth.

Secondly, Nevi in and of themselves are not considered high risk. But some melanocytes after exposure to Ultraviolet Light (UV rays) from the sun or from UV rays from tanning bulbs become malignant, the first step towards a Melanoma, a big health problem in the U.S., with over 190,000 Americans being diagnosed with Melanoma this year, and over 7250 fatalities. The good news however is that if Melanoma is detected early, it is often very treatable by a minor outpatient procedure. Unfortunately, if detected late, Melanoma can compromise one’s health and well-being.

So it’s helpful to review key features of high risk lesions:

· Important tip: I’ve diagnosed a number of patients with Melanoma in the 29th years that I’ve been in practice as a Cordova Dermatologist simply by spotting one mole that is different from the person’s other moles – maybe a different hue of brown or black, or with a different shape.