Moles are common. Almost every adult has a few of them. Adults who have light skin often have more moles. They may have 10 to 40 moles on their skin. This is normal. Most moles appear on the skin during childhood and adolescence. Moles will grow as the child (or teen) grows. Some moles will darken, and others will lighten. These changes are expected and seldom a sign of melanoma, the most-serious skin cancer.
Nearly every adult has a few moles. Most adults have a type of mole called a common mole, which is harmless.
There are other types of moles that can increase a person’s risk of getting melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. If you discover any one of these moles on your skin, you should have a dermatologist who can give you skin exams.
Having your mole(s) checked for melanoma is important. If melanoma is found, you’ll be able to get the treatment you need. Finding out that your mole is harmless can give peace of mind.
- A dermatologist’s trained eye can often tell whether a spot is a mole.
- Most moles do not require treatment. A dermatologist will remove a mole that is:
- Bothersome (rubs against clothing, etc.)
- Unattractive to a patient
- Suspicious (could be skin cancer)
A dermatologist can usually remove a mole during an office visit, without any downtime. Most removals require only one office visit. Occasionally, a patient may need to return for a second visit.
Whether it's during one or two visits, a dermatologist can safely and easily remove a mole. A dermatologist will use one of these procedures:
Surgical excision: The dermatologist cuts out the entire mole and stitches the skin closed if necessary. Your mole will also be looked at under a microscope by a specially trained doctor. This is done to check for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, your dermatologist will let you know.
Surgical shave: The dermatologist uses a surgical blade to remove the mole. In most cases, a specially trained doctor will examine your mole under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, your dermatologist will let you know.
After a mole is removed, the skin will heal. If the mole grows back, immediately make another appointment to see your dermatologist. This could be a sign of melanoma, the most-serious type of skin cancer.
Never try to remove a mole at home
While it may seem more convenient to shave off or cut out a mole yourself, there are three very good reasons a dermatologist should remove it:
Skin cancer: If the mole contains skin cancer, some of the cancer cells can stay in the skin and even spread.
Scarring: You can disfigure your skin causing a scar.
Infection: A dermatologist uses sterile equipment to prevent infection.
Home remedies can do more harm than good.
Homemade pastes that you apply to the mole can cause an allergic skin reaction, leaving you with red and raw skin. You’ll usually also still have the mole.
Tattooing over a mole isn’t a great option either.
If melanoma later develops in the mole, it can be hard to see the early signs. Given time to grow, melanoma can spread, making treatment difficult.
TYPES OF MOLES
Atypcial moles Melanoma can grow in an atypical mole. Anyone who has atypical moles, such as this patient, should watch his or her moles for change.
Atypical mole This type of mole can look like melanoma. It is not melanoma. But you have a higher risk of getting melanoma if you have:
- Four or more atypical moles.
- Already had a melanoma.
- A first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) who had melanoma.
- Your dermatologist may call an atypical mole a dysplastic nevus. Nevus is the medical term for mole. When your dermatologist is talking about two or more moles, you may hear the word "nevi."
- Atypical moles (or nevi) are often:
- Larger than an eraser on the end of a pencil.
- Have an odd shape (not round).
- Show more than one color—mixes of tan, brown, red, and pink.
Atypical moles can appear anywhere on the body. They often appear on the trunk. You can also get them on your scalp, head, or neck. Atypical moles rarely appear on the face.
Some people who have many atypical moles have a medical condition called familial atypical multiple mole-melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome. People with FAMMM syndrome have:
- Many moles—more than 50
- Some moles that are atypical
- A blood relative who has (or had) melanoma
Congenital mole When a person is born with a mole, the mole is called a congenital mole. Roughly, 1 out of 100 people is born with a mole. These moles vary in size from small to giant. Having a giant congenital mole increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma.
Spitz nevus This mole can look like melanoma. In fact, it can so closely resemble melanoma that a dermatologist cannot tell by looking at it. Most Spitz nevi are pink, raised, and dome-shaped. A Spitz nevus can also have different colors in it like red, black, and brown. The mole may bleed. It can have an opening that oozes.Most Spitz nevi appear on the skin during the first 20 years of life. Adults also occasionally get Spitz nevi.
Acquired mole (50 to 100 or more) When a mole appears on the skin after a person is born, it is called an acquired mole. Most people who have light skin have about 10 to 40 of these moles. These moles also are called common moles.
If a person has 50 or more of these moles, the person has a higher risk for getting melanoma
MOLES V MELANOMA
People often want to know how they can tell a mole from a melanoma. For adults, new moles and changes to existing moles can be a sign of melanoma. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable. If a mole starts to grow, itch, or bleed, make an appointment to see a dermatologist.
Moles can appear anywhere on the skin. They can develop on your scalp, between your fingers and toes, on the soles and palms, and even under your nails.
A mole on your body usually has one color (often brown, but a mole can be tan, black, red, pink, blue, skin-toned, or colorless), round in shape, flat or slightly raised, and unchanged from month to month.
Although moles have a distinct look, they may not look alike. Even in the same person, moles can differ in size, shape, or color. Moles can have hair. Some moles will change slowly over time, possibly even disappearing.
The most-serious skin cancer differs from moles in that it tends to show one or more of the following traits (known as the ABCDEs of Melanoma):
A = Asymmetry. One half is unlike the other.
B = Border. An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
C = Color. Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown, or black; is sometimes white, red, or blue.
D = Diameter. Melanomas are usually greater than 6 mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
E = Evolving. A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
MOLES ON KIDS
Looking at moles and getting a worrisome one checked can teach your child how important it is to know your moles. If your child starts do this at an early age, it’s likely to become a lifelong habit. But there are also times when a dermatologist should examine a child's mole
Moles on a child’s skin are generally nothing to worry about. New moles appear during childhood and adolescence. As the child grows, the moles will naturally get bigger. It’s also normal for moles on a child’s skin to darken or lighten. Some moles fade away. These changes are common and rarely a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can begin in a mole.
In fact, melanoma is rare in young children. Even so, there are times when a mole should be checked by a dermatologist just to be sure. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable.
The following can help you decide when a dermatologist should examine your child.
Moles on Kids Guide
If a mole is growing (or changing) quickly, this can be worrisome. A mole can also be worrisome if a change causes the mole to look different from your child's other moles. Dermatologists call these moles "ugly ducklings." Such changes can be a sign of melanoma.
Mole that is dome-shaped, has a jagged border, or contains different colors
If you see a raised, round growth on your child's skin that is pink, red, tan, or brown, it's likely a Spitz nevus, a harmless mole that usually appears between 10 and 20 years of age. A child can also be born with this type of mole. The raised surface can be smooth or rough. Sometimes, the surface breaks open and bleeds. While a Spitz nevus is harmless, it can look a lot like melanoma, the most-serious type of skin cancer. Melanoma can bleed, break open, or be dome shaped. Both a Spitz nevus and a melanoma can have more than 1 color. Even when viewed under a microscope, this mole often resembles melanoma. Any spot that looks like those described to above, should be examined by a dermatologist. In some cases, a dermatologist will want to remove it. If the spot isn't changing, however, a dermatologist may decide to watch it closely. Sometimes, these moles eventually disappear without treatment.
A raised mole can catch on something and become irritated. If a mole bleeds without reason, however, it should be checked. A mole that looks like an open sore is also worrisome. Bleeding or a break in the skin can be a sign of melanoma.
It's normal for a child or teenager to get new moles. By the time a child becomes an adult, it's common to have 12 to 20 moles. If your child already has 50-plus moles, however, your child should be under a dermatologist's care. Some children who have lots of moles get melanoma early in life.
Most moles are round (or oval) spots that are smaller than the eraser on a pencil. Some children get larger moles. A large mole can measure 7 inches in diameter or more. A giant mole can blanket part of a child's body. Children with these types of moles are usually born with them. These moles can also appear shortly after birth. Having a large or giant mole increases the child's risk of developing melanoma and other health problems. This risk is greater when the child is young.