Moles

  • What is a mole?
A mole is a pigmented spot on the outer layer of the skin and can be round, oval, flat, or raised.
  • How can the mole be identified?
Moles can occur singly or in clusters on any part of the body. Most moles are brown, but colors can range from pinkish flesh tones to yellow, dark blue, or black.
  • Are they fatal?
Most moles are benign, but atypical moles (dysplastic nevi) may develop into malignant melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer.
  • What causes a mole?
Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles may darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.
  • What are the different kinds of moles?
Congenital nevi are moles that appear at birth. Congenital nevi occur in about one in 100 people. These moles may be more likely to develop into melanoma (cancer). Dysplastic nevi are moles that are larger than average (larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape. They tend to have uneven color with dark brown centers and lighter, uneven edges. People with dysplastic nevi may have more than 100 moles and have a greater chance of developing melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer.
  • How Do I Know if a Mole is Cancer?
Most moles are not dangerous. The only moles that are of medical concern are those that look different than other existing moles or those that first appear after age 20. If you notice changes in a mole's color, height, size, or shape, you should have a dermatologist (skin doctor) evaluate it. You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly, or become tender or painful.
  • How Are Moles Treated?
If a dermatologist believes a mole needs to be evaluated further or removed entirely, he or she will either remove the entire mole, or first take just a small tissue sample of the mole to examine thin sections of the tissue under a microscope (a biopsy). This is a simple procedure. (If the dermatologist thinks the mole might be cancerous, cutting through the mole will not cause the cancer to spread.)
If the mole is found to be cancerous, and only a small section of tissue was taken, the dermatologist will remove the entire mole by cutting out the entire mole and a rim of normal skin around it, and stitching the wound closed.
  • Can I prevent skin moles from occurring?
Moles, are sometimes hereditary and have been known to be linked to sun exposure. If you will be spending a lot of time in the sun, be sure to use sunscreen of an SPF 30 or more.

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