By now, you’ve been told to keep track of your moles and have a dermatologist look at them regularly. And rightfully so: 30% of all melanomas begin as a mole, and 90% of moles have cancer-causing properties. However, despite that huge number, most moles won’t become malignant, and up until a few years ago, scientists weren’t sure why.
University of Michigan researchers pinpointed the prevention in a cell structure called endoplasmic reticulum, responsible for cells’ protein production. ER senses activity in melanocytes (the pigment cells) and essentially puts them in check. When amino acids start to build up, ER puts the cells in suspended animation by slowing or “unfolding” the protein, and tumor creation is suppressed.
“In the case of moles, melanocytes can stay this way for 20 to 40 years or even your whole life,” said Maria Soengas, PhD, of the Multidisciplinary Melanoma Clinic. “For most of us, just holding cells in an arrested state is sufficient to prevent the development of cancer. That’s why so many people have moles, but few have melanoma.”
Regardless of the low likelihood, it’s still imperative to get your moles checked every year.