Moles on Scalp? Symptoms, Prevention and Treatment for Skin Cancer on the Scalp
When was the last time you checked your scalp for suspicious moles? Find out from Tiege Hanley what signs of skin cancer you should be looking for and how to reduce your risk of skin cancer on the scalp.
Although skin cancer can be scary, most cases are usually preventable when they are detected early. Unfortunately, cancerous moles on the scalp often go unnoticed until it’s too late.
Hidden beneath our hair, scalp moles can be dangerous for numerous reasons. Not only is it difficult to notice any changes to these moles, but cancerous moles on the scalp seem to have an increased chance of spreading to other parts of the body.
What steps can you take to prevent and treat moles on the scalp? Here are three things you need to know:
- Early detection of skin cancer on the scalp starts with knowing the different signs and symptoms.
- Men can significantly reduce their risk of skin cancer by getting regular skin screenings.
- Surgery and radiation therapy are common treatment options for skin cancer.
What's the Difference Between a Mole and a Birthmark?
Before you get too worked up over every single dark spot on your body, let’s clear up the confusion on moles vs. birthmarks. Both moles and birthmarks are colored marks that can develop anywhere on the body.
The difference between moles and birthmarks is the time that they first develop. Here’s a breakdown of the two types of colored marks:
Birthmark: As the name suggests, birthmarks are present when you’re born. Although birthmarks are usually harmless, the large ones can come with an increased risk of melanoma. Keep an eye on large birthmarks and see a dermatologist immediately if you notice any changes.
Moles: Moles develop after birth and will typically appear before we reach age 30. Moles are more likely to change in appearance, and thus, should be watched carefully. If you have white skin and a large mole count (greater than 50), you’re at a higher risk of skin cancer and should get regular skin screenings by your doctor.
The Dangers of Moles on the Scalp
The good news is that moles on the scalp aren’t common. However, they are often the deadliest spot for melanomas to occur.
You can probably guess one reason as to why this is. Moles on the scalp, especially ones located near the back of our heads, can be notoriously difficult to see. This can lead to a late discovery of melanoma in men, which may prove fatal.
But according to researchers, late detection isn’t the only reason why skin cancer on the scalp is so deadly. A 2008 study published in the Archives of Dermatology found that patients with scalp and neck melanomas had far more aggressive melanomas compared to patients with melanomas on their arms and legs (See claim: “The 5- and 10-year Kaplan-Meier survival probabilities for scalp/neck melanoma were 83.1% and 76.2%, respectively, compared with 92.1% and 88.7%, respectively, for melanoma of the other sites, including extremities, trunk, face, and ears (log-rank test; P < .001).”)
Scientists believe that the abundance of blood vessels and lymphatics has something to do with the aggression of scalp melanomas. With more blood vessels and lymph nodes, melanoma cells can spread more easily to the brain and other parts of the body.
Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer on the Scalp
How can you tell whether a scalp mole is harmless or a sign of something more dangerous? Here is what you should look for:
- Basal Cell Carcinoma—Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer and may appear as a flesh-colored bump or a pink blemish on the scalp. It may also be slightly itchy and form a scab.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma—Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) can appear slightly scaly or crusty. They may eventually develop into raised bumps.
- Melanoma—The deadliest of all skin cancers, melanoma on the scalp may have irregular borders, an asymmetrical shape, different colors (often brown and black) and are larger than a pencil tip. If a mole that fits this description changes over time, see a dermatologist right away.
Another early warning sign of skin cancer that you should look for is Actinic Keratosis (AK). AK is one of the most common forms of pre-cancer and first appears as a dry, scaly patch of skin.
AK is associated with chronic sun exposure and is a major public health concern. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Dermatologic Surgery found that the risk of skin cancer in patients with AK increased six-fold (see claim: “Multivariate analysis showed that the risk (odds ratio [OR]) of developing nonmelanoma or melanoma was increased more than six-fold (p≤.0001) in patients with AK.”)
It isn’t possible to prevent moles on the scalp. However, it is possible to reduce their likelihood of becoming cancerous. Here are a few ways to prevent skin cancer on the scalp:
- Wear Proper Sun Protection—The number one cause of skin cancer is too much sun exposure. To protect your scalp from sun damage, consider donning a wide-brimmed hat to protect both your scalp and your face from the sun’s UV rays.
- Get Regular Checkups—Schedule regular skin checks with your doctor and never miss an appointment. Ask your doctor about how often you should get checked.
- Keep Track of Any Mole Changes—Don’t rely on your dermatologist to spot changes to your scalp moles. Perform regular checkups on yourself by standing in front of a large mirror and using a handheld mirror to check your moles on the back of your head.
- Get a Haircut—Although you shouldn’t rely on your barber to detect cancerous moles on your scalp, they are in a unique position to spot any strange-looking moles. If you’re on good terms with your barber, consider asking them to alert you to any suspicious moles on your scalp.
After taking a biopsy of the suspicious mole and confirming skin cancer, your doctor will determine the best treatment option for you based on your diagnosis. Here are some of the most common treatment options for treating skin cancer on the scalp:
- Surgery—This can range from a simple excision to cut the cancerous tissue from the scalp to Mohs Surgery, in which the skin is cut in layers to remove the tumor. Other methods such as cryosurgery and electrosurgery may also be options.
- Radiation Therapy—Internal or external radiation therapy may be used to kill cancer cells via high-energy x-rays.
- Topical Medications—Topical creams such as imiquimod are often prescribed to patients with superficial squamous cell carcinomas or actinic keratoses.
Stay Safe, See a Dermatologist
If left untreated, cancerous scalp moles can metastasize and become life-threatening. Men of all ages and ethnicities shouldn’t ignore the risk of skin cancer.
Be safe and schedule regular skin checkups with your dermatologist. By being proactive, you can significantly reduce your chances of skin cancer.
Lachiewicz, Anne M., et al. “Survival Differences Between Patients With Scalp or Neck Melanoma and Those With Melanoma of Other Sites in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program.” Archives of Dermatology, vol. 144, no. 4, Jan. 2008, doi:10.1001/archderm.144.4.515.
Chen, G. John, et al. “Clinical Diagnosis of Actinic Keratosis Identifies an Elderly Population at High Risk of Developing Skin Cancer.” Dermatologic Surgery, vol. 31, no. 1, 2006, pp. 43–47., doi:10.1111/j.1524-4725.2005.31009.