What Are Moles?
A mole (nevus) is a skin growth that occurs when melanocytes, or pigment cells, develop in clusters. Many adults have between 10–40 common moles, often found on skin frequently exposed to sunlight, though they can develop anywhere on the body. Moles are often present at birth, though they may appear later in life. In older individuals, common moles can fade and disappear over time.
Common moles are usually smaller than a quarter-inch or the width of a pencil eraser and are often round or ovular. They also may have a smooth or slightly raised surface with a distinct border, appearing pink, tan, brown, or black. People with dark skin tend to have darker moles than those with fair skin or blond hair.
Mole Frequency, Size & Shape
While most moles are harmless, changes in a mole’s color, shape, texture, or size could signal cancerous growth. Furthermore, people with 50 or more moles and atypical moles, or atypical nevi, have elevated risks of developing melanoma or other skin cancers. The typical or common mole may appear as a small, brown, or black spot but can form in different shapes, colors, and sizes.
- Shape. The majority of moles are round or oval in shape.
- Color and texture. Moles may be brown, black, tan, red, pink, or blue. They can have a wrinkled, flat, or raised texture and may produce hair.
- Size. Moles are typically about a quarter-inch or less in diameter. Moles present at birth can be larger, covering a limb, torso, or a part of the face.
What Causes Moles?
Moles are extremely common. Most people have about 10–40 of them, with most moles developing on body parts that receive sunlight (ultraviolet radiation). For some people, the longer they are in the sun, the more moles they develop. Moles occur when skin cells develop or grow in clusters instead of spreading throughout the skin. The majority of moles are made from melanocytes, or cells that give the skin its color.
Risk factors for moles include excessive sunlight. Moles can change in appearance and may grow darker over time, particularly after sun exposure, during puberty, and during pregnancy. If one or more than one mole changes in appearance, including its size, color, border, shape, elevation, or in another uneven matter, you should consult your Boardman dermatologist for a prompt evaluation.
Types Of Skin Moles
Nearly every adult has one or more moles, most are common moles, but there are several other types of skin moles, including acquired moles, spitz moles, congenital moles, and atypical moles. If you’re wondering if you have skin moles to worry about, contact Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center to book a consultation.
People can develop acquired nevi during childhood and into early adulthood. The majority of these moles are smaller than a one-quarter inch and never develop into skin cancer. Common acquired melanocytic nevi are clusters of melanocytes that often develop due to certain genetic factors, among other causes.
Generally, small, pink, and dome-shaped a spitz nevus is commonly mistaken for melanoma during physical examinations, but it is benign. These growths are often found in children and teenagers, usually on the face, neck, and legs, with black, blue, brown, or red coloration.
Congenital nevi occur on approximately 1 in 100 individuals and are present from birth. These moles are round- or oval-shaped and can be one shade or multi-colored. If the mole is more than eight millimeters in diameter, its risk of developing into skin cancer increases.
Atypical Dysplastic Nevi
A dysplastic nevus is larger than average moles at more than one-quarter inch in diameter. Visually, they are irregular-shaped, while most have dark brown centers with light, uneven borders. Dysplastic nevi are typically inherited, and individuals with them have a greater chance of developing malignant or cancerous melanoma.
Are Pigmented Lesions The Same As Moles?
Pigmented lesions is a general term used to describe common moles, freckles, age spots, and other colored lesions on the skin. The majority of pigmented lesions are harmless and will not become cancerous, but if those lesions are unusual, it's important to see a dermatologist regularly for a full skin examination. Consistent monitoring of your skin allows our dermatologists to identify worrisome changes in lesions. A change in skin moles or lesions may prompt your dermatologist to perform a skin biopsy, where a sample of the mole is removed for closer inspection under a microscope. A skin biopsy can help your dermatologist determine whether your skin nevus or skin nevi are non-cancerous, melanoma, or another skin cancer.
Complications Of Moles
Moles are commonly removed because they’re cancerous, but some patients choose to remove moles for cosmetic reasons or health precautions. Our dermatologists utilize three mole-removal techniques: dermatology surgery or excisional surgery, shave excision, and punch biopsy. Skin cancer surgery or laser treatments is generally used in cosmetic mole removal. But your dermatologist will determine which of the three techniques is most appropriate for your goals and health needs. Call our office today to schedule an appointment.
How To Remove Moles/Mole Detection & Treatment Options
Moles are detected through a visual examination of the skin. You can detect moles by self-examining of your skin or a visual examination performed by an Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center dermatologist. Although most patients don’t require mole treatment, surgical mole removal is just one of the options available for patients with precancerous or cancerous moles. During your consultation, a dermatologist will determine the optimal treatment plan for your needs, with a skincare treatment most effective for treating your moles while leaving as minimal scarring as possible. Contact us to request an appointment for mole removal treatment.
How Do I Examine My Moles?
Most skin moles are non-cancerous. Moles appearing different from other existing moles on your body or those that appear on your skin after age 30 may be cause for concern. If you observe changes in any mole’s thickness, color, size, or shape, you should consult your dermatologist. Additionally, if any of your moles bleed, ooze, itch, or feel painful or tender to the touch, consult your dermatologist. To examine your moles, you should use a full-length mirror or a hand mirror.
Perform a full-body examination beginning at the top of your head and ending at your toes. Make sure to inspect every area of the body, including the sides, back, and hidden areas, such as the area between the fingers and soles of the feet. Make a journal note for every mole you find, including a description of its appearance during each examination. Keeping records of any changes in moles from month to month can help you spot cancerous moles as early as possible.
Mole Examination Guide
Early detection of changes in moles and the development of skin cancer symptoms is vital for effective skin cancer prevention and treatment. Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Center recommends a monthly visual examine of your body, including areas that aren’t typically exposed to the sun. The ABCDEs are important indications of moles that are worrisome or could be cancerous. To determine if a mole could become cancerous, use the following guide from the American Academy of Dermatology.
- Asymmetry: There is a difference in color, shape, or size of the two halves of the mole.
- Border: The edges of a mole have a poor definition or are irregular in shape, such as scalloped borders.
- Color: The color or shade (black, blue, brown, red, tan, or white) varies throughout the mole.
- Diameter: Most cancerous moles are larger diameter than 6 millimeters, although some may be smaller.
- Evolving: A mole evolves when it changes size, color, or size between examinations.
Normal or benign skin moles do not require removal for medical reasons. If your dermatologist determines that one or more of your moles is concerning, they will perform a skin biopsy to further review the sample and determine whether or not it is cancerous, could become cancerous, and/or requires removal. If the mole is cancerous, it must be completely removed. Cancerous moles are typically diagnosed following a biopsy or the surgical removal of the mole. Abnormal moles can bleed and become scaly, itchy, or painful. Inform your dermatologist immediately if you experience these symptoms or discover a new mole. If you are concerned a mole is changing or unsure about it, contact our dermatologists to have them examined.
What Happens If A Mole Is Cancerous?
If your mole is cancerous or suspected to become cancerous, it may require complete removal through excisional surgery, shave excision, and/or a punch biopsy. Do not try to remove a mole by yourself, even using over-the-counter products. Not only could your skin become infected, but you could unknowingly remove a cancerous portion of your skin, among other potential consequences. If skin cancer is not caught early, such as through the identification of an abnormal mole by your dermatologist, the disease can spread to other organs. If you have a concern, talk with your dermatologist.
Moles are natural growths on the skin that cannot be prevented. However, you can be proactive about reducing your risk of developing skin cancer or catching skin cancer early by limiting the amount of sunlight you receive, wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 35 every day, and examining your moles at least once each month, inspecting them for irregularities. Being vigilant about preventing skin cancer is critical for your health, particularly if you have fair or light skin, you have numerous moles, and/or your immediate family members have a history of skin cancer, atypical moles, or many moles on their body.
In addition to limiting your exposure to the sun's ultraviolet radiation and using sunscreen daily, examining your moles regularly and thoroughly increases the chance of detecting and treating related skin cancers, such as melanoma, early. As part of our complete early detection strategy, we recommend that you examine your skin at least once each month and visit our providers at least once every year, or more often if you are at a higher risk for skin cancer, for a full-body, comprehensive skin examination.