Everyone has moles, sometimes 40 or more. Most people think of a mole as a dark brown spot, but moles have a wide range of appearances. They can be raised from the skin and very noticeable, they may contain dark hairs, or they may be dangerous.
Sun exposure increases the number of moles, and they may darken. During the teen years and pregnancy, moles also get darker and larger and new ones may appear.
Each mole has its own growth pattern. The typical life cycle of the common mole takes about 50 years. At first, moles are flat and tan like a freckle, or they can be pink, brown, or black in color. Over time, they usually enlarge and some develop hairs. As the years pass, moles can change slowly, becoming more raised and lighter in color. Some will not change at all. Some moles will slowly disappear, seeming to fade away, Others will become raised far from the skin. They may develop a small “stalk” and eventually fall off or be rubbed off.
Recent studies have shown that certain types of moles have a higher-than-average risk of becoming cancerous. They may develop into a form of skin cancer known as malignant melanoma. Sunburns may increase the risk of melanoma. People with more moles than average (greater than 100) are also at risk for melanoma.
Moles are present at birth in about 1 in 100 people. They are called congenital nevi. These moles may be more likely to develop a melanoma than moles, which appear after birth.
Moles know as dysplastic nevi and atypical moles are larger than average (usually larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape. They tend to have uneven color with dark brown centers and a lighter, sometimes reddish, uneven border or black dots at the edge. These moles often run in families.
People with dysplastic nevi may have a greater chance of developing malignant melanoma and should be seen regularly by a dermatologist to check for any changes that might indicate skin cancer. They should also learn to do regular self-examinations, looking for changes in the color, size or shape of their moles, or the appearance of new moles. Sunscreen and protective clothing should be used to shield moles from sun exposure.
Recognizing the early warning signs of malignant melanoma is important. Remember the ABCDs of melanoma when examining your moles.
If a mole displays any of these signs, it should be checked promptly by one of our dermatologists. It is important to remember that not all moles look alike. Moles may be skin colored, or pink, light tan to brown, and even blue to black. They may be round or oval, or their shape may be slightly irregular. They may be flat or raised, large or small, with or without hairs, mottles or evenly colored. If the appearance of a mole worries you or it changes suddenly in any way, you should consult with one of our dermatologists.
The majority of moles and other blemishes are benign (non-cancerous). They will never be a threat to the health of a person. Spots or blemishes that warrant medical concern are those that do something out of the ordinary; those that act differently from other existing moles.
If you notice a mole that does not follow the normal patterns, our dermatologists may be able to assure you that the mole is harmless, or confirm that it is cancerous. Our dermatologist may remove the mole or part of it to study it under a microscope.
This is a simple and harmless procedure. If the growth was only partially removed and it is found to be cancerous, then the entire lesion and an extra margin of safety will need to be removed.
A person may wish to get rid of moles that are irritating them, or simply because they are unattractive. The most common methods of removal include numbing and shaving the mole off, or cutting out the entire lesion and stitching the area closed.
Most procedures used to remove moles take only a short time. Sometimes a mole will recur after it is removed. If a mole has been removed and begins to reappear, the patient should return to our dermatologist.
*Results and patient experience may vary.