Skin Cancer/Moles

The professionals at Alamance Skin Center look to provide you with the very best in skin care and skin health awareness. Please click on the links below to learn more about concerns related to skin cancer and moles.

Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most prevalent of all cancers. It is estimated that more than one million Americans develop skin cancer every year.

Sun avoidance is the best defense against skin cancer.

Over exposure to sunlight (including tanning) is the main cause of skin cancer especially when it results in sunburn and blistering. Other less important factors include: repeated medical and industrial x-ray exposure, scarring from diseases or burns, occupational exposure to such compounds as coal tar and arsenic, and family history. Fair-skinned people who sunburn easily are particularly high risk for skin cancer.

Prevention means guarding the skin against the known causes of skin cancer. Since the sun’s ultraviolet rays are the main culprit, the most effective preventive method is sun avoidance.

  • Seek shade between 10:00 A.M. and 4:00 P.M. when the ultraviolet rays are the most intense, especially when your shadow is shorter than you are tall.
  • Wear light colored, tightly-woven, protective clothing, and wide-brimmed hats (3-inch brim).
  • Apply sunscreens with a SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 15.

With a SPF 15 sunscreen applied properly, a fair-skin person who sunburns in 20 minutes can tolerate 15 times 20 minutes (300 minutes) without burning. However, the use of sunscreens should not be an excuse to spend extra time in the sun because other sunrays still go through the sunscreen, such as UVA or infrared, which can age the skin and damage the skin’s immune system.

Begin early use of sun protection in childhood because it is estimated that 80 percent of lifetime sun exposure occurs before age 18. Children under 6 months of age should not have prolonged sun exposure, but if this occurs then a sunscreen should be used.

The use of sunscreen should always be part of a program for sun avoidance and never as an excuse for increasing sun exposure.


Everyone has moles, sometimes 40 or more. Most people think of a mole as a dark brown spot, but moles have a wide range of appearance.

At one time, a mole in a certain spot on the cheek of a woman was considered fashionable. Some were even painted on. These were called “beauty marks.” However, not all moles are beautiful. They can be raised from the skin and very noticeable, they may contain dark hairs, or they may be dangerous.

Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. They are usually brown in color and can be various sizes and shapes. The brown color is caused by melanocytes, special cells that produce the pigment melanin.

Moles probably are determined before a person is born. Most appear during the first 20 years of a person´s life, although some may not appear until later in life. Sun exposure increases the number of moles.

Each mole has its own growth pattern. At first, moles are flat and tan, pink, brown, or black in color, like a freckle. Over time, they usually enlarge and some develop hairs. As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming more raised and lighter in color. Some will not change at all. Most moles will slowly disappear, seeming to fade away. Others will become raised so far from the skin that they may develop a small “stalk” and eventually fall off or are rubbed off.

This is the typical life cycle of the common mole. These changes occur slowly since the life cycle of the average mole is about 50 years.

Moles may darken with exposure to the sun. During the teen years, with birth control pills, and pregnancy, moles often get darker and larger, and new ones may appear.

Different Types of Moles

Recent studies have shown that certain types of moles have a higher-than-average risk of becoming cancerous. Some may develop into a form of skin cancer known as malignant melanoma. Sunburns may increase the risk of melanoma. People with many more moles than average (greater than 100) are also more at risk for melanoma.

Moles are present at birth in about 1 in 100 people. They are called congenital nevi. These moles may be more likely to develop a melanoma than moles which appear after birth. When a congenital nevus is more than eight inches across, it poses the greater risk for developing melanoma.

Moles known as dysplastic nevi or atypical moles are larger than average (usually larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape. They tend to have uneven color with dark brown centers and lighter, sometimes reddish, uneven borders or black dots at edge. These moles often run in families.

Persons with dysplastic nevi may have a greater-than-average chance of developing malignant melanoma. These people should be seen regularly by a dermatologist to check for any changes that might indicate skin cancer. They should also learn to do regular self-examinations, looking for changes in color, size or shape of their moles, or the appearance of new moles. They should also shield their moles from sun exposure using sunscreen and/or clothing.

Recognizing the early warning signs of malignant melanoma is important. Remember the ABCDE´s of melanoma when examining your moles.

A stands for ASYMMETRY, when one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half.

B stands for BORDER, when the border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular.

C stands for COLOR, when the color of the mole is not the same throughout or if it has shades of tan, brown, black, red, white, or blue.

D stands for DIAMETER, when the diameter of a mole is larger than 6mm, about the size of a pencil eraser.

E stands for evolution.

If a mole displays any of these signs, it should be checked promptly by a dermatologist.

Many people have flat moles. It´s important to remember that not all moles look alike. They may be skin colored or ping, light tan to brown, and even blue-black. They may be round or oval, or their shape may be slightly irregular. They may be flat or raised, large or small, with or without hairs, mottled or evenly colored. If the appearance of a mole worries you or if it changes suddenly in any way you should consult a dermatologist.