It might be difficult to believe that something as small and innocuous looking as a freckle or mole could be lethal, but it's possible. So, the bottom line when dealing with a mole that looks suspicious is -- see a doctor. It might simply be a funny-looking mole, but if it is cancerous, you'll be glad you sought help. Early detection is key. The cells in a melanoma can break off and spread to other parts of your body. Usually they make their way to your lymph nodes, and then to other organs like your lungs.
If the doctor thinks that your mole could be cancerous, he or she will most likely decide to remove a piece of it to send to a lab for a biopsy, or examination. If the mole is smaller than 3/8 of an inch (9.5 mm) in diameter, it will probably be removed completely [source: Mayo Clinic]. In a lab, a pathologist will use a microscope to see if it is actually cancerous. If it is cancerous, you may be referred to a specialist, who might want the mole to be completely removed, including a small section of healthy skin around the mole. At this time, the physician will also check your lymph nodes to see how big they are -- enlarged lymph nodes could be a sign that the cancer has spread. The physician might take another biopsy to rule out that the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes. Other tests, like x-rays or CT scans, can help the physician see if your organs have been affected by the cancer [source: Mayo Clinic].
If the cancer has spread beyond your skin, treatments may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and biological therapy to kill cancer cells in different parts of your body.
Dealing with a cancerous mole is simplest if you discover it early -- so that it can be treated before it can spread throughout your body. Regular self-exams and doctor visits could prevent a small mole from changing your life.
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Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- American Cancer Society. "How is Melanoma Diagnosed?" 5-14-09. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_How_is_melanoma_diagnosed_50.asp?sitearea
- American Cancer Society. "What Is Melanoma?" 5-14-09. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_1X_What_is_melanoma_50.asp?rnav=cri
- American Cancer Society. "What Are the Key Statistics About Melanoma?" 5-14-09. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_1X_What_are_the_key_statistics_for_melanoma_50.asp?rnav=cri
- American Cancer Society. "How is Melanoma Staged?" 5-14-09. (Accessed 9/16/09) http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3X_How_is_melanoma_staged_50.asp?rnav=cri
- Gibson, Lawrence E., MD. "Freckles and Moles: What's the Difference?" Mayo Clinic (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/skin/AN00399
- Mayo Clinic. "Moles." 2-19-08. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/moles/DS00121
- Mayo Clinic. "Melanoma." 6-3-08. (Accessed 9/16/09)http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/melanoma/DS00439
- MedlinePlus. "Moles." 9/23/09. (Accessed 10/6/09)http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/moles.html