Doctors tell us to check our moles every month, but is it possible to see melanoma changes over a faster time period?
It seems that we should check our skin perhaps every two weeks, if it’s indeed possible for the naked eye to detect cancerous changes in a mole in a shorter time frame.
I posed this question to Dr. Janet Prystowsky, board certified dermatologist in New York, NY, with 30+ years’ experience.
I first asked if melanoma in a mole can grow fast enough for a person to notice the changes from one day to the next.
“It is unlikely to notice changes in your melanoma day to day,” says Dr. Prystowsky. “However, you may be able to notice changes week to week.”
There are different kinds of melanoma. One such type, the most common, is called superficial spreading melanoma.
It can produce changes visible to the naked eye that, even over 12 months, are barely detectable.
A particularly astute person or one who has the so-called eye for detail, will be able to notice changes over a few months with such a cancer.
“Nodular melanoma is more aggressive than superficial melanoma,” says Dr. Prystowsky. “Since superficial melanoma spreads on the surface of skin first, you may be able to identify changes in it before it penetrates deeper.
“Nodular melanoma is more likely to form a bump. When you notice a nodular melanoma, it is more likely to already be invasive than if it were a superficial melanoma.”
Nodular Melanoma Grows Fast
and You’ll Easily See Changes
Most melanomas are not of the nodular type, but you should still know more about this kind of cancer.
According to a study of 404 patients led by Wendy Liu, PhD, of the Alfred Hospital Melbourne, the median monthly growth rate of nodular melanoma was 0.49 mm.
Can you tell if something has grown by half a millimeter? It depends on if the growth is a strikingly different color than the mole that it’s occurring in.
It also depends on:
• Location of growth within the mole.
• If the growth is standalone.
• Your visual acuity.
• A magnifier will help.
Median growth rate per month for superficial spreading melanoma was 0.12, and for lentigo maligna it was 0.13.
Characteristics of Rapidly Growing Melanoma
According to the study, they were more likely to be:
• Flesh colored
• Non-jagged border
• Cause symptoms
• Associated with men over 70
• Associated with patients with fewer moles, though this could just be a coincidence in the study.
The report states, “…the bad-looking melanomas were associated with slower rates of growth compared with those that were not bad looking.”
Liu et al points out that the study’s findings (published in Archives of Dermatology) were limited by the subjective reports of patients recalling rates of melanoma growth – presumably done with their naked eyes; no mention of magnifying glasses was made.
A nodular melanoma can change fast enough to be noticed from week to week. The study showed 0.49 mm per month of growth on average, but it’s possible for the growth rate to be bigger in a month’s time – clearly visible to the naked eye.