Moles are brown or black growths, usually round or oval, that can appear anywhere on the skin. They can be rough or smooth, flat or raised, single or in multiples. They occur when cells that are responsible for skin pigmentation, known as melanocytes, grow in clusters instead of being spread out across the skin. Generally, moles are less than one-quarter inch in size. Most moles appear by the age of 20, although some moles may appear later in life. Most adults have between 10 and 40 moles. Because they last about 50 years, moles may disappear by themselves over time.
Types of Moles
There are four main types of moles:
- Congenital Nevus Occurring in about 1 in 100 people, congenital nevi are moles that appear at birth. Congenital nevi moles may have a greater tendency to develop into melanoma than moles that appear later in life.
- Dysplastic Nevus Larger than average and irregular in shape, dyplastic nevi tend to have uneven color with dark brown centers and lighter, uneven edges. These moles are hereditary. Pathologically diagnosed dysplastic nevi need to be treated with complete removal by shave or surgical removal.
- Halo Nevi Generally affect individuals under the age of 20 years. When the skin surrounding small moles becomes lighter and the central moles turn pale, these types are called halo nevi. Usually benign, halo nevi may increase the risk of vitiligo, a skin disorder.
- Blue Nevus A deep-seated blue mole that is very common in West Indian infants.
People with 50 or more moles are at a greater risk for developing a skin cancer.
In some cases, abnormal moles may become painful, itchy, scaly or bleed. It's important to keep an eye on your moles so that you can catch any changes early. We recommend doing a visual check of your body monthly, including all areas that don't have sun exposure (such as the scalp, armpits or bottoms of feet).
The ABCDE's of Melanoma
The American Academy of Dermatology's ABCDEs uses this guide to access whether or not a mole may be becoming cancerous. If you see one or more of these, make an appointment with a dermatologist..
Asymmetry Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape or color.
- Border The edges of moles are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
- Color The mole is not the same color throughout.
- Diameter The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed, but may also be smaller.
- Evolving A mole or skin lesion that is different from the rest, or changes in size, shape, or color.
If any of these conditions occur, please make an appointment to see one of our dermatologists right away. The doctor may do a biopsy of the mole to determine if it is or isn't cancerous and/or may surgically remove it.
One of the best ways to protect against skin cancer is to take caution in the sun. Reduce exposure to the sun by:
- Applying a water-resistant, broad-spectrum sunscreen
- Limiting time in the sun
- Looking for changes in your skin regularly
- Protecting children from the sun
- Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts
- Wearing a broad-brimmed hat
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