The risk factors for skin cancer will depend on your demographics. A recent study has shown that if you're a woman under the age of 40, your most likely risk factor is using a tanning bed. If you're a man above the age of 40, your most likely risk factor is prior skin burn as a child. A blistering skin burn is particularly dangerous, and it is a high risk factor for having a melanoma later in life.
Another risk factor is the number of moles you have. If you have more than 100 moles, that puts you in a separate category to be examined more closely for skin cancer. Changing moles, moles that are not completely round, moles that have more than one color in them, and moles that are greater than six millimeters are all considered risk factors for skin cancer.
It is very difficult to determine whether something is just an unusual looking mole, a precancerous mole, or a melanoma. The only way to really find out is to do a skin biopsy. However, there are newer technologies that are cutting down on the number of biopsies being done.
Dermoscopy is using a special polarized light in a microscope to look at the moles to determine what type of pigment is present. It will allow us to see different colors. It will allow us to see different network patterns, and it will allow us to see if certain parts of the mole look more dangerous than the others. It is very helpful, because it can oftentimes determine whether a mole is completely normal or precancerous.
With the introduction of dermoscopy, the number of biopsies performed to determine whether a mole is cancerous or not has significantly decreased. So it's important to ask your dermatologist whether you're a candidate for a dermoscopic exam based on the number of moles you have and how they look.