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The Differences in Moles vs Freckles vs Birthmarks

innocent thinking - closeup portrait of a sweet red hair little boy looking up, scratching his head for idea and imagination, copy space on grey background studioMay is Melanoma Awareness month. Dr. Amy and the Baby Pibu team want to help spread the awareness by sharing how to spot the difference in moles vs freckles vs birthmarks. Did you know that melanoma is the 5th most common cancer for both men and women, and it is the most common cancer in young adults aged 25 to 29 years old.

Freckles are medically known as solar lentigos and appear as light brown small patches. Freckles may look quite cute on the cheeks of our children, but take note that freckles are indicative of ultraviolet (UV) exposure and damage. Avoid UV exposure and freckle development by protecting yourself with UV protective clothing, sunscreen, and avoidance of peak UV hours (10am to 4 pm).

Let’s move on to moles and birthmarks. We can be born with one or a few special moles known as our birthmarks. These birthmarks are categorized into small, medium and large. It is the large birthmarks that grow to larger than 20cm in adulthood, which carry an increased risk of melanoma development within them. These large congenital nevi can present at 5cm to 6cm when a baby is born and grow to more than 20 cm as the individual grows from newborn to adulthood. If your baby is born with a birthmark, measure it. If you think it is large, have it evaluated by a dermatologist.

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Acquired moles are ones we will develop anywhere on our body after we are born to about 30 years old. It is important to be aware of the moles that you have, the type of moles you are developing, and the number of moles you have. The average number of moles is 6 to 20. Having a mole count greater than 50 is considered a risk factor that can increase an individual’s risk of melanoma and dysplastic (atypical) moles. Individuals with a large mole count should be followed routinely by a dermatologist. As we acquire our moles after we are born, we tend to develop moles that appear similar to one another, like a family of moles. Everyone tends to develop one to three families of moles. A mole that appears different from the family of moles is known as the “outlier” or “ugly duckling.” The ugly duckling sign is one way to detect the atypical mole or melanoma. Melanomas most commonly present as new lesions 2/3 of the time, but arise within birthmarks, moles or freckles 1/3 of the time. With that in mind, pay attention to and be wary of the “ugly duckling.”

Finally, here are the familiar ABCDE’s of melanoma to know:

  • A: Asymmetry. Be suspicious of moles that are asymmetric (can’t draw a line down the middle and match up both sides)
  • B: Borders. Be suspicious of moles with fuzzy or ill-defined borders.
  • C: Color. Be suspicious of moles with variegated color throughout or two-toned moles.
  • D: Diameter. Be suspicious of larger moles, greater that 6mm in diameter.
  • E: Evolving. Be suspicious of moles that are changing. Moles should just exist. If any mole changes, make note and be suspicious.