Have you noticed the dark colored spots on your feet, leg or anywhere on your body? It is likely a nevus (plural: nevi), the medical term for a mole. The term originates from nevus, which is Latin for “birthmark” – however, a nevus can be either congenital (from birth) or acquired over time. Nevi are very common, most people have at least one, but many have between 10 and 40. Common nevi are harmless collections of colored cells that appear as small brown, tan, or pink spots. They form because of an increase in the size or numbers of melanocytes – the cells that produce melanin or pigments in the skin.
You can be born with moles or develop them later in life. Moles that you’re born with are known as congenital moles. However, most moles develop during childhood and adolescence. This is known as an acquired nevus. Moles can also develop later in life, in adulthood, as a result of sun exposure.
There are many types of nevi. Some of them are harmless, and others, more serious. Some examples of nevi are common, congenital, blue, spitz, halo and reed.
How they are diagnosed
If you’re unsure of what type of nevus you have, it’s best to have your doctor or dermatologist take a look.
If your nevus seems to be changing or your doctor isn’t sure what it is, they may perform a skin biopsy. This is the only way to confirm it is benign (not cancerous) or rule out skin cancer.
There are a few ways to do this:
Shave biopsy: Your doctor uses a razor to shave off a sample of the top layers of your skin.
Punch biopsy: Your doctor uses a special punch tool to remove a sample of skin that contains both the top and deeper layers of skin.
Excisional biopsy: Your doctor uses a scalpel to remove your entire mole and some of the other skin around it.
Most moles are harmless and don’t require treatment. However, if you have a mole that’s cancerous or could become cancerous, you’ll likely need to have it removed. You can also choose to have a benign nevus removed if you don’t like the way it looks.
When to see a doctor
Skin cancer is easiest to treat when it’s caught early. It’s important to know what to look for, so you can recognize the signs early on. Try to get in the habit of examining your skin once a month. Keep in mind that skin cancer can develop in areas that you can’t easily see, so use a mirror or ask a friend to help you if you need to.
Doctors have developed a system known as the ABCDE method to help people identify signs of skin cancer.
Here’s what to look for:
A is for asymmetrical shape: Look out for moles that look different on each side.
B is for border: Moles should have solid borders, not irregular or curvy borders.
C is for color: Check for any moles that contain several colors or uneven and splotchy color. Also note if any have changed in color.
D is for diameter: Keep an eye on moles that are larger than a pencil eraser.
E is for evolving: Look for any changes in a mole’s size, color, shape, or height. Also watch for any new symptoms, such as bleeding or itchiness.
You can keep track of your existing moles and changes by using a body map and chart from the American Academy of Dermatology.
Nevi come in many shapes and sizes but most of them are harmless. Still, it’s important to keep an eye on your moles because changes could indicate a problem. If you’re worried about one or more of your moles, don’t hesitate to get them checked out by your doctor. They can do a biopsy to rule out skin cancer.
If you have a mole that isn’t changing and doesn’t bother you, the best thing to do is to leave it alone. But if you don’t like the way the mole affects your appearance or if your clothes are irritating it, see a dermatologist to remove it safely. And definitely see a doctor if the mole has changed in size, color or texture, which could be a sign of skin cancer. The doctor will do a biopsy — removing a small piece of the mole to look at it under a microscope to see if it’s cancerous. The doctor uses various methods to remove moles safely and effectively. If moles are benign, we will continue to observe them for changes overtime. If there are any cancer cells seen, the patient will be referred to an oncologist.
• For more information on foot conditions, visit www.apma.org, healthcentral.com, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To see a podiatrist, visit Bahamas Foot Centre, Rosetta Street, or telephone 325-2996 for an appointment at Bahamas Surgical Associates Centre, Hilltop Medical, or call 394-5820 for an appointment. You can also visit Lucayan Medical Centre in Freeport, Grand Bahama, or telephone 373-7400 for an appointment.