Bloomington / Normal, IL

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When Is a Mole Just a Mole?


By Dr. Zain Rizvi, Heartland Foot & Ankle Associates

Many times, something as simple as a mole can become a life-threatening issue if left untreated.  That is because a change in the appearance of a mole is often a sign of Melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer for women aged 29-35, even more so than breast cancer! Moles and other skin cancers that appear in the lower extremities can have a very different appearance from those on the rest of the body. And they are easy to miss because most people don’t really look at their feet—especially the bottom! Podiatrists are uniquely trained as lower extremity specialists and are able to recognize and treat any suspicious skin conditions in the early stages—before they become life threatening.

There are three main types of skin cancer:
Basal Cell Carcinoma is often seen on sun-exposed surfaces and is one of the least aggressive types of cancers. It may appear as pearly white bumps, patches which may ooze or crust, or be similar in appearance to an open sore or ulcer.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of cancer on the feet.  It may be itchy and resemble a plantar wart, fungal infection, eczema, or ulcer.  It may appear as a small scaly bump or plaque, inflamed area of skin, or a hard projecting callus-like lesion. 

Malignant Melanoma can occur on the tops or soles of the feet, or beneath a toenail. Melanomas may resemble moles, blood blisters, ingrown nails, plantar warts, ulcers, or bruises. Although melanoma is not as common as other kinds of skin cancers, it is more likely to spread. Because of this, detecting a melanoma at an early stage is crucial.

The exact cause of a melanoma is not clear, but the incidence of melanoma has been increasing greatly, especially in women.  One in five people living in the United States will be diagnosed with a form of skin cancer by the time they are 70.  Exposure to ultraviolet lights with tanning beds and sun exposure increase your chances of melanoma.  While many people are diligent about using sunscreen on exposed skin, they often neglect to include their feet!  Always look for unusual or new spots that may appear on any part of the body—especially on areas not protected from the sun.

The first 5 letters of the alphabet can be used as a guide to recognize warning symptoms of moles that may be melanoma.

Asymmetry: To test this, draw a line through the mole and compare both sides.

Border: In a melanoma the borders will be uneven while a mole will have a more even border

Color: Melanoma may be different shades of brown. As the melanoma progresses it may change colors. A benign mole is generally a single shade of brown.

Diameter: The larger the lesion, the more chances of it being malignant. Generally, a lesion greater than 5 mm is something to be concerned about.

Evolving: Any change in color, size, or shape may be a warning sign for a melanoma

The best treatment for any type of skin cancer is to prevent it from occurring in the first place.  Avoid the sun during peak hours, seek shade, cover up with protective clothing and use sunscreen. Avoid tanning salons as 15 minutes on a tanning bed is a whole day’s worth of sun exposure. Examine your skin regularly and contact your podiatrist for anything questionable that is located on your feet or ankles. If located elsewhere on your body, call your dermatologist.

Heartland Foot and Ankle is dedicated to not only providing comprehensive foot and ankle care, but striving to do this in a timely manner with upfront pricing and payment options so that patients can get back to their busy lives. For more information about any foot or ankle concern, please visit their website at or call them at 309-661-9975.  Their office is located at 10 Heartland Drive in Bloomington.