Moles are skin growths that can appear anywhere on the body. They can be either raised or flat, and are usually black, brown or flesh-colored. It is possible to have a single mole in one place on your body and groups of them in another – they can be unpredictable this way.
For the most part, moles appear as you age, normally during your first two decades of life. However, some appear after this time. Also, some people have more moles than others, and it is completely normal to have anywhere from 10 to 40 of them by the time you reach adulthood.
As you age, moles can slowly begin to change. Some of these changes include color, and occasionally hairs will grow out of them. They can also become raised, or disappear entirely.
WHAT CAUSES A MOLE?
Heredity and sun exposure (ultraviolet light), can both cause moles to form. They occur when skin cells called melanocytes grow in a cluster. Everyone has melanocytes, as they are what makes the pigment, or melanin, that gives skin its color.
According to dermatologists, moles can darken slowly over time, especially during the teen years, after sun exposure, and during pregnancy.
WHAT ARE CONGENITAL NEVI?
Around one in every 100 infants are born with congenital nevi, or moles that appear at birth. Unlike moles that appear after birth, congenital nevi are more likely to eventually become malignant melanomas (a form of skin cancer.) The odds of this happening increase if the mole is over 8 inches in diameter.
WHAT ARE DYSPLASTIC OR ATYPICAL NEVI?
Unlike moles that become cancerous, dysplastic or atypical nevi are benign (non-cancerous) moles. They share some of the characteristics of melanomas and other malignant moles, but they are not dangerous. Both of these types of moles are hereditary, and can greatly increase your chances of skin cancer, so they must be checked regularly by a dermatologist.
HOW DO I KNOW IF A MOLE IS CANCEROUS?
There are many factors that can increase your chances of skin cancer; having congenital nevi, dysplastic nevi, or atypical nevi as some of these, as are having a family history of skin cancer, possessing light skin and light eyes, and not using proper sun protection.
While most moles are not cancerous, there are several characteristics to look for. If any of your existing moles changes in any way: shape, size, height and color, then they should be checked by a dermatologist. The same is true of moles that appear after the age of 20. You also need to watch for moles that become painful or tender to the touch, those that look scaly, and ones that itch, bleed, or ooze.
Some the areas to check are the ears, face, chest, scalp, arms and neck, as these spots on your body receive a lot of sun exposure. If you have any moles that seem suspicious or if you simply want to have one removed, make an appointment for a consultation with Dr. Price.
The ABCDEs are one of the best ways to remember what to look for when you are examining your moles. If you have a mole that meets any of the below criteria, it should be checked by a dermatologist, as it may be cancerous.
A – Asymmetry – One side of the mole does not match the other. You should look at the asymmetry in terms of things like shape, thickness, color and size.
B – Border Irregularity – The borders of the moles, around the edges, are blurred, irregular or ragged.
C – Color – The pigmentation of your moles is not the same throughout. Look for ones that are many different colors, such as shades of red, black, brown, white or blue.
D – Diameter – The total diameter of the mole is bigger than a pencil eraser.
E – Elevation – A part of the mole is raised or elevated above the skin. E can also stand for Evolution – As in, rapid changes that occur to a mole.
HOW ARE MOLES TREATED?
There are two things that a dermatologist can do to a suspicious mole: remove it entirely or do a biopsy. A biopsy involves taking a tiny sample of the mole and then examining it under a microscope. This is a fairly simple procedure, and only takes a short amount of time. If the biopsied mole turns out to be cancerous, the dermatologist will remove the rest of the mole and a portion of the skin around it to ensure that all of the harmful cells are gone.