Moles

  • Overview
      moles_landing.jpg
    If a mole starts to grow, itch, or bleed, make an appointment to see a dermatologist.

    Moles: Overview

    Also called nevi

    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.

    For adults, new moles and changes to existing moles can be a sign of melanoma. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable.

    Here are 3 facts that can help you find melanoma early and get treatment:

    • A change to a mole or a new mole is often the first sign of melanoma.
    • You can find melanoma early by checking your own skin.
    • If you see a mole or other spot that's growing, itching, bleeding, or changing in any way, immediately make an appointment to see a dermatologist.

    There are also times when a dermatologist should examine a child's mole. You'll find pictures and descriptions of moles on a child's skin that should be examined at:

    5 signs your child's mole needs to be checked

    Image property of the American Academy of Dermatology.



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  • Symptoms

    Moles: Signs and symptoms

    People often want to know how they can tell a mole from a melanoma. Here is a general rule.

    Mole

    A mole on your body usually has these traits. It's:

    • 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.
    • Unchanged from month to month.

      Moles_symptoms.jpg
    ABCDEs of Melanoma

    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.

    It's also important to know that 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.

    Melanoma

    The most-serious skin cancer differs from moles in that it tends to show one or more of the following traits:

    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. Melanoma are usually greater than 6mm (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.​

    ABCDEs of Melanoma

    If you see a mole or new spot on your skin that has any of the ABCDEs of melanoma, immediately make an appointment to see a dermatologist.

    Image property of the American Academy of Dermatology.



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  • Types

    Moles: Who gets and types

    Almost 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. Below you'll see 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.

    moles_types_atypical.jpg
    Atypical 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.
    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 (dysplastic)

    This type of mole can look like melanoma. It is not melanoma. But you have a higher risk of getting melanoma if you have:

    • 4 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 (dis-plas-tic) 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 1 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.

    mole_types_Congenital.jpg
    Congenital mole: This congenital mole was small when the girl was born. When it started to grow, her dermatologist removed it.

    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.

    Moles_types_spitz-nevus.jpg
    Spitz nevus: This type of mole is often pink, raised, and dome-shaped.

    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.

    Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.



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  • Treatment

    Moles: Diagnosis and treatment

    How do dermatologists tell whether a spot is a mole?

    A dermatologist’s trained eye can often tell whether a spot is a mole.

    How do dermatologists treat moles?

    Most moles do not require treatment. A dermatologist will remove a mole that:
    • 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. Most removals require only 1 office visit. Occasionally, a patient may need to return for a second visit.

    Whether it's during 1 or 2 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.

    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 3 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.

    Outcome

    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.


    Moles
  • Tips

    Moles: Tips for managing

    Dermatologists recommend the following to their patients:

    • See a mole on your skin that is changing, itching, or bleeding? If you do, immediately make an appointment to see a dermatologist. These are signs that you could have melanoma, the most-serious type of skin cancer. Caught early, melanoma can be cured. Without treatment, melanoma can spread. This can be deadly.
    • Perform self-exams of your skin. A self-exam can help you catch melanoma early.


    You can learn how to check your skin, and what to look for at:

      Body mole map (pdf)

    • Protect your skin from the sun. It is believed that being out in the sun increases the number of moles on your skin. And we know that the sun causes skin cancer. Tanning beds and sun lamps also cause skin cancer.


    To protect your skin, skip getting a tan and wear sunscreen every day.

    • Have 50 or more moles on your skin? People with many moles have a higher risk of getting melanoma, so you should have a dermatologist who can examine your skin as often as necessary.
    • Join a support group. If you have a higher risk of getting melanoma, joining a support group may help you feel better. You have a higher risk if you have FAMMM, large noticeable moles, or a mole that covers most of the body.


    People who have noticeable or unusual moles often have to deal with stares and whispers. Meeting with people who face similar challenges can provide emotional support.

    Related resources:

    • Nevus Outreach Inc.: Support and information for people who have large nevi and neurocutaneous melanocytosis (NCM).
    • Nevus Network: Support group for people who have congenital nevi.


    Moles