Moles are very common and under most circumstances they are not a cause of concern. Some moles you're born with, and others you harmlessly acquire throughout life. However, there are times moles can be indicators of dangerous skin cancer, and it's important to know the warning signs so you can act quickly to address potential problems.
It’s important to have your skin examined by a professional once a year to observe the moles on your body and determine if any changes have taken place. You are able to observe most moles on your own; however, a cancerous mole on your back can go undiscovered.
There are several instances when you should contact your dermatologist or family doctor because of a mole, including if the mole is asymmetric, if its borders are irregular, if the color varies within the mole, if it’s larger than a pencil eraser, or if it evolves by changing its shape, color or size.
Melanoma is a deadly type of skin cancer that is found in skin cells called melanocytes that are located on or around moles. Melanocytes make melanin, which is responsible for the color of your skin. If the skin is under prolonged exposure of ultraviolet rays, the skin cells begin making more melanin, and this is why your skin tans. After several years of prolonged sun exposure, skin cells can begin making melanin at abnormal rates, which leads to melanoma.
If melanoma is caught early, there is a high chance that the cancer can be treated and the patient will recover cancer free. However, if the cancer is not caught early and spreads to other body parts, it’s far more difficult to treat.
The process of having a mole removed from your back seems much scarier than it actually is.
The doctor will normally have you undress from the waist up and put on an open-back robe. The doctor will then sterilize the area and then give an injection of a local anesthetic to numb the area, so you will not feel the mole being removed. The injection is considered the worst part, but this depends on where you get the injection. Your back is not a sensitive area of skin so it only feels like a small pinch.
Once the area is numb, the mole will be shaved, cut out or cauterized.
Shaving is the most common method used. The protruding mole is removed with a scalpel. The area is then burned with a cauterizing instrument to stop the bleeding, a topical antibiotic is applied and then the wound is covered with a bandage.
If the mole is cut, which is the method of choice for atypical moles, a blade is used to remove the mole and surrounding skin. The patient will receive stitches and need to return at a later date to have stitches removed.
If the mole is cauterized, it is burned away with a cautery tool.
The recovery process involves minimal care. Unless instructed differently by a physician, the majority of patients return to their usual responsibilities. To avoid infection, it is important to keep the area clean and covered while it’s healing. Your physician will either prescribe a topical ointment or suggest an over-the-counter brand that does not contain neomycin.
During your recovery period, the mole will be sent to a lab to determine if it is cancerous or benign. You can usually expect the results within a week. If the results indicate you have melanoma, the tumor will usually be surgically removed unless it was removed already during the diagnosis process. If the melanoma is in a later stage, the treatments may include immunotherapy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.