Mole — melanoma?

Originally Published: March 29, 1996 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: August 10, 2007
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Dear Alice,

I have a mole that has appeared sometime in the last two years. It is underneath my pubic hair and it is about half an inch long with one raised area. I'm worried about it because it is larger than any others I have, and because I didn't have it as a child. It is NOT an STD, according to my ob/gyn. Could it be melanoma?? Thanks.

Dear Reader,

Since you are concerned your mole could be melanoma, you may want to make a dermatologist appointment. A dermatologist can tell you if this mole is skin cancer. You might also want to remember that melanoma can spread, with some types spreading faster than others. The good news is that it can be cured when caught early.

Melanocytes are healthy skin cells that produce melanin, the pigment responsible for tanning and for protecting the skin from the sun. Melanoma cells are melanocytes gone awry, as they continue to produce melanin beyond the skin's need. Melanoma also tends to metastasize (i.e., spread to other areas of the body).

Compare your "mole" to the description of melanoma given by the American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology:

The ABCDs of Melanoma Identification

ASYMMETRY — Both sides of the growth do not match each other in terms of shape and/or size.

BORDER IRREGULARITY — The edges of the growth are ragged, notched, or blurred (versus smooth and well-defined edges).

COLOR — The pigmentation is not uniform. Shades of tan, brown, and black are present. Dashes of red, white, and blue add to the mottled appearance.

DIAMETER — The size of the growth is greater than 6 mm in diameter (roughly the size of a pencil eraser). Any enlargement of the growth should also be noted.

Less common warning signs include changes in the surface of a mole; scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule; spread of color from the border of the growth into surrounding skin; and, a change in sensation, including itchiness, tenderness, or pain. Of course, regardless of whether or not your "mole" fits any of these descriptions, you may want to have it looked at as soon as possible.

If you are a Columbia student you can make an appointment with Primary Care Medical Services online through Open Communicator or by calling x4-2284. If you are not a Columbia student, contact your health care provider for an appointment or dermatology referral.