A summer vacation often means fun in the sun and water, but it can also mean an increased likelihood of developing a dangerous mole. Most kids are born without moles, called “nevi” by dermatologists, but the development of new moles is of concern, because the higher the number, and the more irregular the moles, the greater the risk for developing melanoma, the most dangerous of the skin cancers. Melanoma occurs relatively infrequently, but it causes about 75 percent of skin cancer deaths. Prevention is the best route to lowering your child’s risk of the disease.
Most moles are not dangerous, but it’s important to monitor any that appear on your child’s skin and track their number, shape, color and symmetry from year to year because melanomas can grow in or near moles. In fact, the appearance of a new mole or a change in the size, color or shape of a mole is often the first sign of skin cancer.
Moles are pigmented cells that cluster together. They can be brown, tan, pink or flesh-colored, and are usually oval or round and about the size of a pencil eraser. They typically appear during childhood, adolescence and early adulthood, and they can develop anywhere on the body. They will often get bigger with age, get darker or lighter, develop a raised surface or sprout hair.
Some people have a genetic tendency toward developing moles and also malignant melanoma. Those who have fair freckled skin and who work or spend a lot of time outdoors are more likely, due to sun exposure, to have moles that develop into skin cancer.
Only about 1 percent of infants are born with a mole, which is known as a “congenital nevus.” These moles can look like normal brown, tan or pink moles or they can look like a blue-grayish bruise. A congenital nevus is typically harmless, unless it is really large (bigger than 8 inches), in which case it increases the risk of developing melanoma over the first five or ten years of life by as much as 10 percent. They are called a precancerous lesion and must be followed.
What Dangerous Moles Look Like
The cardinal signs of potentially malignant moles are ones that:
- Have an irregular shape (asymmetric)
- Have jagged edges
- Are uneven in color or shape
- Have red areas
- Are larger than the size of a pencil eraser
- Are growing rapidly
Preventing Moles—and Skin Cancer
1. Lead by example. Wear protective clothing while in the sun and apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen (for UVA & UVB) with an SPF of at least 15, wear a hat and avoid peak sun hours (between 10 AM and 2 PM). Also be sure to encourage your child to protect his or her eyes with sunglasses to prevent the development of eye problems such as cataracts later in life.
2. Check your child’s moles every month to detect changes. You might even mark the moles on a body illustration or take photos to record their location, shape, size and color. Don’t forget to look on the scalp, palms, nails and between the fingers and toes, as well as areas that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, arms, legs, neck, chest and ears.
3. See a dermatologist if you find a suspicious mole on your child’s body. If a mole on your child’s skin suddenly changes size, shape or color or bleeds, or it starts to get bigger, make an appointment with a dermatologist to look at it. It may need to be removed with a scalpel. Kids who have fair skin, a lot of moles and freckles, or irregular moles should see a dermatologist for regular skin checks, he adds.
Schedule Your Skin Exam Today
Regardless of your specific risk of developing skin cancer, it is important to undergo regular skin exams by a board-certified dermatologist. At Advanced Dermatology, PC, our dermatologists are experts at diagnosing and treating skin cancer. Contact us today to schedule your complete body examination. Our ten conveniently located offices welcome patients from Queens, Long Island – Nassau/Suffolk (Roslyn/Albertson, West Islip, Commack, East Setauket), New York City, Westchester County, Bergen County, NJ, Union County, NJ, and all surrounding areas.