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General Medical Questions
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Question : I just found a funny-looking mole on my breast. I'm African American, and don't spend much time in the sun. Could it be cancer?
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The Trusted Source
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Rebecca Campen, M.D., J.D., is an assistant professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School. She divides her time between clinical practice of dermatology at the Massachusetts General Hospital and private practice in Savannah, Ga.

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May 19, 2011
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A:

People with darker skin have increased pigmentation cells in their skin. These cells, called melanocytes, are less susceptible to damage by the sun's rays.

The types of skin cancers often associated with sun exposure happen less frequently in people with darker skin than in lighter-skinned people. But darker-skinned people can get skin cancer.

When skin cancers do occur in people with darker skin, the cancer is often more aggressive and diagnosed in later stages. This leads to more deaths than in lighter-skinned people.

Squamous cell carcinomas
Sun exposure plays an important role in this type of skin cancer in light-skinned people. But in darker-skinned people, sun exposure appears to play less of a role. For example, most squamous cell carcinomas appear on the sun-exposed areas of the body of lighter-skinned people. But on darker-skin people, most squamous cell carcinomas appear on skin and other surfaces not exposed to the sun, such as:

  • The palms of the hands
  • The soles of the feet
  • Inside the mouth

Melanoma
Melanoma is a cancerous and potentially deadly mole. It can appear on any area of the body in lighter-skinned or darker-skinned people. But in darker-skinned people, melanoma is more commonly found on the inside lining of the mouth, under the nails, or on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.

Check your moles
It is important to have strange looking moles (or any mole that changes in any way) checked by a dermatologist.

Here is what you can look for:

  • Asymmetry (not symmetrical in shape, but "lopsided")
  • Border changes (a jagged edge appears)
  • Color changes (a mole gets darker, changes color or changes shades of color)
  • Diameter changes (a mole becomes as large or larger than a pencil eraser)
  • Evolving mole (a new mole)

Also watch for any sores that do not heal or any new growths. Have these checked as well.

The growth on your breast may turn out to be a noncancerous (benign) growth, but it also could be a cancerous growth. So, you do need have it examined by a health professional who is experienced with skin problems. Your doctor may want to examine you first or may just refer you directly to a dermatologist.

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