If your bra strap keeps irritating a mole, can this make it turn into a deadly melanoma?

Many women are worried that continuous irritation from a bra strap can cause a mole to develop into melanoma.

Whether or not a bra strap irritation can trigger a melanoma transformation in a benign mole is a “great question,” according to Estee Williams, MD, a board certified medical, cosmetic and surgical dermatologist and assistant clinical professor in dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Here is what Dr. Williams explains: “As a general rule, we want to be extra cautious when it comes to melanoma skin cancer because catching it early can be life-saving.

“I educate patients that any mole that is changing, be it bleeding, crusting or becoming painful, should be promptly evaluated by a board certified dermatologist.


“This is the case even if you’re absolutely sure that the irritation is due to external trauma, such as rubbing against a bra strap.”

CAN irritation from a bra strap ever cause melanoma in a normal mole?

Dr. Williams says, “Although there is scientific data that irritation can actually change a mole’s appearance under the microscope, bra strap irritation — or any external trauma for that matter — has not been shown to cause melanoma skin cancer.”

Melanoma, like any cancer, starts at the DNA level: a mutation.

So is it logical that continuous rubbing of a bra strap against a healthy mole can actually trigger a mutation in DNA?

DNA does not get damaged when fabric rubs on skin, even when the mole shows visible irritation such as redness, bleeding or scabbing (from the bleeding).

A mole that’s elevated above the skin is more prone to bra strap irritation, and the irritation can also cause pain or itching.

But remember, melanoma is a process that starts on the molecular level that can be prompted spontaneously for reasons not known, or from sunlight radiation.

So what’s going on, then, when a mole seemingly transforms into melanoma after chronic irritation from a bra strap?

This is coincidence. Furthermore, a mole that’s already malignant may more easily become visibly irritated by fabric rubbing on it.

It then gets noticed more easily.

In fact, you’re more likely to keep track of moles that are in the path of rubbing clothes simply because the clothing irritates them.

So if by chance, one of these moles starts changing in appearance due to melanoma, you will more likely notice this – simply because you view the mole more frequently.

The erroneous conclusion then jumps at you: Irritation from the bra strap turned the mole into melanoma.

Computer-Based Mole Mapping

For peace of mind, you may want to consider a technology called serial digital dermoscopy, which is provided at Dr. Williams’ clinic.

This state-of-the-art technology involves yearly photos of your moles taken and fed into a computer database.

An algorithm then determines a melanoma-suspicion index for each mole.

Images of your moles are also compared to previous ones to check if there are any changes over time that would be suspicious for melanoma, such as alterations in the patterning of the mole.

Dr. Williams strives to be at the forefront of her field, being active in local, national and international medical and cosmetic dermatology conferences. 
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.


Top image: CDC, Carl Washington, MD, Emory Univ. School of Medicine, Mona Saraiya, MD, MPH

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