I am a person who has a lot of moles on my skin. Since I also have rheumatoid arthritis and take both methotrexate and a biologic, I have a number of potential risk factors for melanoma (A type of skin cancer).
Unfortunately, research findings indicate that having an autoimmune disease increases the risk of cancer. Medications for treating autoimmune conditions (like methotrexate and biologics) are also connected with cancer. While these medications are vital treatments for treating autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, it’s also important to monitor for potential signs of cancer.
Melanoma is highly treatable skin cancer if caught early.
Risk factors include fair skin, high mole count, history of skin cancer in the person or family, too much exposure to sunlight or ultraviolet light (from indoor tanning), autoimmune diseases, and autoimmune disease treatments.
Because I have nearly all of these risk factors, my doctor has me see a dermatologist regularly to check my moles and overall skin health. Additionally, I watch my skin and have learned to monitor my moles using the ABCDE method.
The ABCDE Method
- Asymmetry — Looking for unevenness in the mole
- Border — The edges of the mole are irregular or ragged
- Color — Looking for a variety of colors in the mole, instead of a single or stable shade
- Diameter — The diameter of the mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil
- Evolving — The mole is changing in size, shape, or color
I visit my dermatologist twice a year for my mole check. We usually start with a discussion about if I have noticed any changes in my moles or skin. Then the dermatologist will do a full body check and uses a magnifying tool to look at my moles.
If the doctor thinks a mole looks suspicious, he or she may suggest a removal and lab test for atypical cells. Most moles can be removed easily in the office with a little novocaine injection and a quick slice with the scalpel. Over the years, I’ve had several moles removed in this way.
Then the mole is sent to a diagnostic lab where they take a look and test it for atypical or cancer cells. Most moles will look funky under the microscope, but that doesn’t mean they are cancerous.
Advanced melanoma has high fatality rates…
So prevention and catching growths early is crucial. I already have fair skin that burns easily, so I am careful about wearing SPF 30 sunscreen or covering up to prevent too much sun exposure. You’ll never see me without a wide-brim hat outside in the summer!
As explained earlier, doing self-checks and knowing the potential signs are also important for early treatment. I also get my husband to help because he can see my back and other places on my skin that I cannot view on my own. Some people also get full body photos or take photos of certain moles so that they can compare and watch for any changes over time. Learn more about self-exams and symptoms for melanoma.
While worrying about cancer is the last thing we need to add to our list, as we have enough to deal with managing rheumatoid arthritis, the good news is that some easy prevention steps can greatly reduce the risk of melanoma.
Being smart about minimizing sun exposure and regularly checking your skin for changes using the ABCDE method, are simple steps for maintaining skin health. Also, consulting with a dermatologist and following his or her guidance helps with prevention and early detection.
Although we don’t know the reason, autoimmune illnesses and their treatments are correlated with increased cancer risk. However, with monitoring and prevention steps anxiety can be relieved.