Most skin cancers stem from new moles, not existing ones, study warns

Pay attention to new moles on your skin – new research suggests it’s new sun spots and not existing moles that make up the vast majority of skin cancer cases.

Italian scientists out of the University of Modena say that melanomas from existing moles were even thinner, handing patients a better prognosis compared to their peers diagnosed from skin cancers tied to new sun spots on their skin.

“These results could indicate that patients who monitor their existing moles for suspicious changes could detect melanoma in its early stages, when it’s most treatable,” Dr. Caterina Longo, a dermatologist and the study’s lead author, said in a university statement.

“Because the disease is more likely to appear as a new growth, however, it’s important for everyone to familiarize themselves with all the moles on their skin and look for not only changes to those moles but also any new spots that may appear,” Longo said.

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Longo’s research is based on reviewing 38 published studies – in total, there were 20,126 melanomas. Turns out, less than one-third of the skin cancers – 29 per cent – came from existing moles. Most – 71 per cent – stemmed from new spots.

She’s encouraging sun seekers to conduct regular self-exams on their skin, and even ask your partner to scan in hard-to-see areas like the back. If you spot any new or suspicious spots, check with your family doctor or a dermatologist, she suggests.

Canadians should also always protect their skin from the sun’s UV rays by wearing sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.

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More than 80,000 cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in Canada each year, and more than 5,000 of them are melanoma, the most deadly form, according to the Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation.

The Canadian Cancer Society provides these signs and symptoms of melanoma:

  • a new mark or spot on the skin
  • a mole or spot that is changing in size, shape, colour or height (elevation or how much it is raised above the skin)
  • a mole or spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin
  • a mole or spot that is asymmetric (one side of the spot does not match the other)
  • a mole or spot that doesn’t have a well-defined border (the edges are irregular, ragged, notched or blurred)

Longo’s full findings were published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Read the full study.

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