Moles; we all have at least a few of them. But what are they? Moles, or Nevi, as we call them, are considered to be benign skin tumors that are composed of melanocytes. Melanocytes are the pigment producing cells of the skin. It is normal to collect moles through the course of your life until about the age of thirty years. After age thirty, it is especially important for any new moles that develop or start to change should be evaluated.
Why Is It Important to Check Our Moles at Home?
Sometimes, moles can undergo changes and turn into a skin cancer called melanoma. Melanoma is a malignancy of melanocytes arising most commonly within the skin; however, melanoma can also arise in other areas of the body. We know that melanoma is potentially curable with early detection and treatment, however a late diagnosis carries a poorer prognosis. Anyone can develop melanoma, however factors that increase the risk include fair skin tone, personal or family history of melanoma, history of blistering sunburns, and sometimes moles that are present at birth.
Since we know that the earlier a melanoma is detected and removed, the better the overall prognosis is, it is important to check your skin monthly to look for changes in your moles. Earlier detection is the key. We call this the monthly self-skin check.
The Monthly Self-Skin Check
As dermatology providers, we recommend that everyone gets into the good habit of checking their own skin for changes monthly. You are the best person to get to know your own skin, your moles, and notice whether something has changed. Set a date on your calendar or program a reminder on your smartphone to perform this exam on yourself once a month.
You can do this exam by working in sections or quadrants of the body. Start with your face, eyelids, ears, lips, and it also is advisable to check inside your mouth, just as your dentist does with your routine cleanings. The scalp can be a bit of a challenge. Do the best that you can and if there is anything that concerns you, see your local dermatology provider for an evaluation. You can also ask your hair stylist to be on the lookout for anything unusual at your appointments.
Next, proceed to check your neck, chest, and abdomen. Use mirrors to see any hard-to-reach areas. It may also be useful to stand in front of a full-length or larger mirror. You can use the mirror to see your back. After the front side of your trunk is checked, turn around and use mirrors to check your back. Do not forget your armpits and lift your breasts or any abdominal folds to see underneath.
Proceed to checking the fronts and backs of both arms and hands. Inspect your fingernails as well. Move on to your lower trunk, pelvis, and finally your legs, in between your toes, your toenails, and soles of your feet.
Tips For Your Monthly Self Skin Checks
If mirrors are difficult to work with or unavailable, sometimes taking photos on your smartphone can help with places like your back, bottoms of the feet, or anywhere else that it is hard to see or reach. You can use selfie sticks to assist with this.
Having baseline photos can also be useful for comparison if you have a lot of sun damage or many moles to check for changes month to month. The ability to zoom in or enlarge photos can also be helpful.
What Should You Check For?
In dermatology, we use the ABCDE method as an easy way to remember what to look for.
- Stands for ASYMMETRY. Study your moles. If you have anywhere one side does not match the other side in appearance, this is an indicator to have it checked.
- BORDER. Look at the borders of your moles. If they appear blurry, jagged, faded, or unusual, have the mole checked. The borders of a mole should be smooth and well defined.
- Stands for COLOR VARIEGATION. Moles that are multiple colors or develop new colors should always be evaluated. Normally we would like to see a uniform, even color of a mole.
- DIAMETER. If your mole is over 6mm in diameter, or larger than the size of a pencil eraser, it is best to have it evaluated.
- Finally, E represents EVOLUTION. This is where those monthly self-skin exams come in handy. Since you know what is on your skin already, you can identify if one of your moles is changing. If you have a mole that is evolving or changing, it is best to have it evaluated as soon as possible.
In addition to the monthly self-skin check, we recommend that you see your local dermatology provider for an in-office full skin exam once a year to make sure that there is nothing to be concerned about. This will also establish you in the practice so that if a concern does arise, it may be easier to obtain an appointment.
How Can We Help?
The Derm NP is an online teledermatology practice that provides online dermatology consultations with either live virtual visits or asynchronous photo consultations depending upon your state of residence. Laura Collins, APRN, ANP-BC, DCNP, ACTTP, the provider at The Derm NP, provides expert dermatological care. Her many years of experience and enthusiasm for dermatology means that you are receiving knowledgeable care by a practitioner that loves her specialty and continuously seeks educational opportunities to provide her patients with the most innovative treatments possible.
We provide care for non-urgent dermatological conditions via telehealth visits, through which we strive to provide top-notch care that considers your schedule. Contact us at (630) 233-9767 or email@example.com for an appointment to help you achieve your skincare goals from the comfort of your own space.