Live Science reports on a study of the deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma, which can help determine increased risk by a simple metric that anyone can use for the purposes of helping a doctor in their individual patient care.
Women who have at least seven moles on their arm would likely to have at least fifty moles on their entire body. Since some melanomas — near fifty percent — occur from existing moles becoming malignant, then the higher the number of moles on one’s body, the higher the risk.
For example, women with eleven moles on their arm would have at least 100 moles on their entire body, which put them at a “drastically” increased risk of getting skin cancer.
The significance of the study is not that a high number of moles indicates this greater risk, but rather that the arm was a dependable indicator of the total number. Other areas of the body were the right elbow, legs and, particularly for men, the back.
“A person’s melanoma risk is thought to increase by 2 to 4 percent with each additional mole on the body.”
While traditional measures required meticulously counting each mole, this new metric is designed to be quick and easy, leading to what researchers hope is a higher rate of catching the disease early. Catching melanoma early means that there is a very high chance of curing the cancer before it become malignant and spreads to other tissues of the body.
According to the original study, the conversion rate of a single mole into melanoma is 1 in 33,000 by the age of 40 for both men and women. Counting 11 moles on the arm, then, would mean that a person would have a chance of developing melanoma in at least one mole by 40 years 1 in 330, or.3 percent, which is still very low, but significantly higher than someone with very few or no existing moles.
King’s College London comments on the significance of the study.
“The findings could have a significant impact for primary care, allowing GPs to more accurately estimate the total number of moles in a patient extremely quickly via an easily accessible body part. This would mean that more patients at risk of melanoma can be identified and monitored.”
The researchers note that other risk factors must be taken into consideration along with the mole count. For example, exposure to UV radiation is a causal factor, and therefore those with a high mole count might be advised to be particularly careful when in the sun. Dr. Claire Knight, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, warns those who have spent time in the sun in the past, especially those who have been sun burnt.
“Other risk factors for melanoma include having red or fair hair, fair skin, light-coloured eyes or having been sun burnt in the past.”
The following are useful skin cancer facts for anyone concerned they might be at an elevated risk.
- Melanoma can spread to other tissues and organs of the body.
- New moles or changes in appearance of existing moles are common symptoms of skin cancer.
- Cancer can affect anyone at any age, but those with fair skin, red or blond hair are at increased risk.
- According to the United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS), melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK.
- More than a quarter of those diagnosed are under 50, and some 2,000 people die from the cancer each year.
- If caught early, the disease can be treated with surgery and/or radio and chemotherapy.
- Wearing strong sun screen (at least SPF15) can help prevent developing skin cancer.
- Artificial tanning in under sun lamps should be avoided.
- Moles and freckles should be regularly checked for any changes in appearance.
- Anyone with concerns about a mole should see their GP.
[Image by Joe Raedle / Getty Images]