Moles are growths of skin cells that are usually brown or black in color. They occur when skin cells grow together in grouped clusters instead of remaining evenly spread out. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin and may be present from birth or develop during life (usually before age 25). While the majority of moles are harmless, some may become cancerous. All moles should be monitored and examined by a dermatologist. Cancerous or precancerous moles should be removed immediately.
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Here are some of the most common types of moles:
- Congenital Moles: Moles that are present at birth or within the first year of life.
- Acquired Moles: Brown or black, dome-shaped skin growths that develop during life. Over time they may become raised, change color, slowly disappear, develop hairs, or not change at all. Moles may also darken due to sun exposure or hormonal changes, especially during adolescence and pregnancy.
- Dysplastic Nevi: Moles that are irregular in size, shape, color, and border, which may become cancerous melanomas. They can appear anywhere on the skin and are usually larger than average.
- Seborrheic Keratoses: Black or brown growths that look similar to moles but have more of a warty appearance. Seborrheic keratoses do not usually lead to cancer.
Common moles that are not likely to be cancerous are typically 6 mm or less in diameter, smooth or dome-shaped, have clear and neat edges, and preserve the same general appearance over time.
Warning Signs for Moles
Most moles are not dangerous. However, there are a few warning signs that signal you should have a mole examined. These include:
- Diameter larger than a pencil eraser
- Irregular shape
- Uneven color
- Uneven edges
- Any mole that changes color, height, size, or shape
- Any mole that bleeds, oozes, hurts, or itches
- Any mole that forms after age 25
A common suggestion is to consider the ABCDEs:
- Asymmetry: Half of the mole does not match the other half
- Border: The edges of the mole are irregular, uneven, or blurred
- Color: The mole is not a consistent color throughout or has various shades of brown, black, blue, white, or red
- Diameter: The diameter is larger than a pencil eraser
- Evolution: The mole has changed size, shape, or color
If you notice any one of these, you should have your mole examined by a dermatologist.
Most moles are harmless, even if they are unsightly. If a mole needs to be evaluated, your dermatologist will perform a simple biopsy to examine the cells. If skin cancer is discovered, the entire area surrounding the mole as well as some of the surrounding skin will be surgically removed.
Common treatments to eliminate moles include:
- Cryosurgery: the mole is frozen off
- Laser surgery: the mole is burned off
- Excision: the mole and some surrounding skin are surgically cut off
- Mohs surgery: layers of skin growths are removed little by little until no abnormal cells remain
- Skin creams