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Moles

Moles are non-cancerous (benign) skin lesions that are made up of the color-producing cells of the skin (melanocytes). A mole is medically referred to as a nevus.

A mole that is present at birth is referred to as a congenital nevus A dysplastic nevus (discussed elsewhere) is a mole which is unusual in appearance (atypical). Moles slowly enlarge evenly in all directions. After moles stop growing, they may remain or they may become smaller as you age. Sun exposure and family tendency play a role in the development of moles. Sometimes moles become inflamed or irritated by friction from rubbing or contact with clothing or by other types of injury.

What are the characteristics of typical moles?

Moles may occur anywhere on the body, including the nails, palms, and soles. Anyone of any race or color or age may have moles on their body.

  • Moles may be raised or flat.
  • Color of moles may vary from pink to skin colored to brown, but they may be darker in people with darker-skinned individuals.
  • Non-cancerous moles are usually alike on both sides (symmetrical), have smooth borders, have uniform color, and are generally smaller than the size of a pencil eraser (6 mm).

Should I be concerned about my moles?

The occurrence of a new mole in an adult over the age of 50 can be unusual; if it occurs, see your doctor for evaluation.

  • People with multiple moles and unusual (atypical) moles should be examined by a dermatologist every 4 to 12 months, depending on their past history and family history.
  • It may be difficult to tell an atypical mole from a normal mole, so always seek medical evaluation if you are unsure about the nature of a mole, if you note changes within a mole, or if a mole becomes irritated or painful.
  • Refer to the ABCDE Rule on moles. The ABCDEs of melanoma lesions:
    • A – Asymmetry: One half of the lesion does not mirror the other half.
    • B – Border: The borders are irregular or vague (indistinct).
    • C – Color: More than one color may be noted within the mole.
    • D – Diameter: Size greater than 6 mm (roughly the size of a pencil eraser)may be concerning.
    • E – Evolving: Notable changes in the lesion over time are suspicious signs for skin cancer.

What might make my moles more likely to be problematic?

Several types of moles have a higher than average risk of becoming cancerous. They include:

  • Large moles present at birth. Large moles that are present at birth are called congenital nevi or giant hairy nevi. These moles may increase your risk of malignant melanoma, a deadly form of skin cancer. In general, moles that are more than the size of a closed fist pose the greatest risk. Have your doctor examine any mole that was present at birth and is fist-sized or larger.
  • Moles that run in families. Moles that are larger than average – which is about 1/4 inch (6 millimeters), or the diameter of a pencil eraser – and irregular in shape are known as atypical (dysplastic) nevi. These moles tend to be hereditary. They’re frequently described as looking like fried eggs because they usually have dark brown centers and lighter, uneven borders. Overall, they may look red or tan. If you have dysplastic nevi, you have a greater risk of developing malignant melanoma.
  • Numerous moles. If you have many moles – 50 or more – you are at a greater risk of developing melanoma.

Do I need to treat or remove my moles?

Non-cancerous moles do not require treatment or removal.  If the mole is in a location that is subject to friction and irritation, then removal may be necessary.

How is a non-cancerous mole removed?

If you are bothered by the cosmetic appearance of a non-cancerous mole, it can be surgically removed.

Resources

  • New Zealand Dermatological Society – New Zealand Dermatological Society
  • Dermatology Channel – Your Dermatology Community – The Dermatology Channel
  • AAD – Body Mole Map
  • National Cancer Institute – What You Need to Know About Moles
  • VisualDXHealth – Moles : Photos and Information

*For any procedure and service described on this website, individual results may vary and may not be applicable in all cases.