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Mole Checking

Mole Checking

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Bundybec
    2 years ago

    Hi , I was recently diagnosed with RA due to having crohns diseases, back in 1995 I developed a mole on my neck front and centre heart shaped ( near perfect to be exact), this well before my diagnosis of crohns in 2008.
    I was 8 1/2 months pregnant with my 1 st child, when my dr questioned my neck , low and be hold it was cancer, the big m…no bigger than a small nail head , I had my son early then the roller coaster ride began, 1st the biopsy, then the surgery, then another 4 to fully remove this quite small love heart on my neck. I was fortunate enough to have mine removed with surgery alone but I’m cut from ear to ear , and still to this day people stair at me like oh shit that’s bad , but I’m alive and have a beautiful son, fast forward to 2008 I had abdominal pain rushed to the er and told I had Crohn’s disease ,what I said then before I know it I’m in surgery having 90 cm of bowel removed with narrowed and rotton bowel also polyps, well , yep more stage 1 cancer but again I had no radiation or chemotherapy, very lucky indeed , then low and behold in 2010 I had large glands in my neck just under my ear, yep melanoma again, lymph nodes and silivery glades removed , again no hard radiation. Then I had what I thought was a ringworm on my right but cheek that was a squirmis cell carsonoma, cut removed and all gone phewww,as it stands to date I have had 3 melanomas in different spots some internal, and 19 squirmis cell carcinoma, and 4 basil cell skin cancers removed, all because of one spot, now today I have regular check ups monthly for bowel, skin, and rheumatologist, Friday I had my rheumatologist appointment to find I have now large groin lymph nodes and have to start all over again, between flairs with the rheumatoid arthritis which is at an all time high at the moment, and my crohns thankfully is behaving it’s self, but it’s a terrible circle, and I have days when I want to quit but I just keep going, so never underestimate your gut feelings and if in doubt cut it out , just bad luck having multiple diseases .
    But awareness is the key to everything in life ,ask questions, live life and I know days are gonna be hard , but in the end there is somebody else where worse than me.
    Sending you all better health and relief for you all, as it’s very common with RA to have numerous other disease aswell, be vigilant and learn to listen to your body and you too will be here to share your story’s.
    I’m 46 years old have 2 beautiful children my son almost 21and a daughter almost13, I’m not giving up and I’ll continue to fight to be here and raise awareness to the mutable effects of RA, and other disease related to having a low immune system.
    With kindest Regards to you all B,Bec xoxo
    Thought are with you all xoxo

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Bec, I’m sorry to hear of all your health struggles but am glad to hear that you keep fighting. Totally agree that we need to be vigilant and listen to our bodies. We know best if something is out of whack. Hang in there and thanks for being a part of the community. Best, Kelly

  • StillFlaring
    2 years ago

    Good article, but you didn’t go far enough. It’s not just changes to moles you have to watch for, it is ANY changes to your skin, anywhere!!!
    After developing a Squamos Cell Cancer and having it removed in Nov (with none of the known causes); my doctors decided it must be due to the biologics I had been on for the previous year & a half. Humira, then Actemera, neither of which really seemed to help my RA.
    Now, my rheumatologist says no more biologics for me. We are back to the old stuff, sulfa drugs and plaquenil, with liberal doses of asprin, and Lyrica which really does seem to help with the fibromyalgia. Of course, it was a battle to get the insurance company to authorize the Lyrica, but I can’t take gabapentin.
    I’ve also started learning a little about essential oils; don’t know much, but a drop of frankinsense a day and also taking egg plant extract BEC5, both of which are recommended as cancer deterrents. And tea tree oil sure helps my skin rashes – stinks till it dries, but it helps. LOL
    Now, my first cortisone injection in my hips since Oct is scheduled for Monday. hallejuah! Apparently, if you have an open wound, esp surgical, the “sones” will slow healing. Good to know. Next injection – left hand!!

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi StillFlaring, thanks for your comment. Yes, we must keep a watch on overall skin health and look out for problems. Sorry to hear about the biologics. Recent research suggests that you may be able to revisit biologics that were tried previously, so it may be worth discussing with your doctor to see if this may be possible for you. Definitely a good point to note that prednisone (along with a number of other RA medications) slow healing and so can complicate recovery from skin surgeries. Take care. Best, Kelly

  • Bundybec
    2 years ago

    Sadly Lycra is been reported to be a placebo, and gabapaten causes squirmis cell carsonoma,even melanoma, Humeria,and remicade too are big no,nos if you have had any previous cancers as the produce ,your immune system to become to alkaline and that makes you even more likely to get all sorts of cancers , please ask and tell Drs everything every visit, as medicines can do more harm than good when mixed.
    My heart breaks every time I hear Drs mix to many drugs that interact with each other.
    Wishing you much needed relief, and sometimes it is the basic codine and oxynorm/ OxyContin that will give you the main relief for your RA and your immune system will be less likely to be compromised . Thinking of you and sending better health and wishes to you xoxo

  • Snappyarms2
    2 years ago

    I was diagnose with RA in Jan, 2016. November 2016 I noticed a mole had changed. Sure enough, Stage II Malignant melanoma. Had surgery to have it removed and my sentinel node removed. I am fortunate as it was caught early and had not spread to lymph nodes. Am awaiting appt. with dermatologist to begin the body checks etc. I have been on MTX and have added Plaqunil. I don’t know if the drugs had anything to do with the melanoma, but the drugs have really helped me function. Damned if ya do situation?

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Sorry to hear about your experience with melanoma, Snappyarms2. Definitely keep monitoring and schedule regular visits with a dermatologist. You are right about the medications–they really can help with RA but the risks and side effects can be rough. Take care. Best, Kelly

  • Robin K. Blum
    2 years ago

    Good article Wren. I developed a Squamos Cell Cancer on my nose which might have been from taking biologics, most recently Enbrel. I had MOHS surgery last fall. Doc switched me to Actemra infusions, but I still need to be mindful about the sun and see my dermatologist. It’s distressing that the same drugs that you take for RA can also cause additional problems. Hope drug researchers can find new treatments without these sorts of negative outcomes.

  • Luntjie
    2 years ago

    I have the same skin problem. Going regularly for examinations. I found this article so well informed and hope all the readers become aware of the importance. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Reminded me its time to have my self checked. God bless.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks so much! Really glad you found the article helpful! Healthy living includes taking care of our skin. 🙂 Best, Kelly

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    2 years ago

    Thank you for your feedback Luntjie. So glad this article was helpful to you. We appreciate you commenting and being part of our community! Kelly, Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team Member

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    This is such great information. Thank you for sharing.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks Rick! 🙂 -Kelly

  • Kelly Dabel moderator
    2 years ago

    So glad you found this helpful Rick. Thank you for commenting and being part of our community! Kelly D., Rheumatoidarthritis.net Team Member

  • Carla Kienast
    2 years ago

    What a great reminder! It’s a such a good idea to at least get an annual dermatology checkup as your skin is your largest organ. Sun damage is also cumulative so all that tanning you did as a teenager catches up with you later in life (as I’m finding out!). Thanks!

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks Carla! Good points! I always forget that the skin is our largest organ. 🙂 -Kelly

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