What Are Moles?
Moles are a common skin condition in which a cluster of pigmented cells create a distinct skin growth. Most moles begin appearing during childhood and adolescence, and the average person has somewhere between 10 and 40 moles. The vast majority of these skin growths are harmless. In some circumstances, they can turn into skin cancer. Watching moles on a regular basis for changes in shape or color is an essential component of skin care and wellness.
Signs and Symptoms of Moles
Most moles present as brown spots on the skin but they can come in various colors. Signs of a mole include:
- An oval or circular spot on the skin that is a different color from the rest of the skin.
- A flat or raised spot on the skin.
- Usually less than a quarter-inch in size.
In rare cases, moles can take the form of congenital nevi, much larger moles that can cover areas of the torso, face or limbs.
What Are the Signs of Abnormal Moles?
When looking for abnormal moles, it is helpful to remember the ABCDE’s of abnormal moles:
- Asymmetry: Healthy moles are usually symmetric in shape.
- Border: Healthy moles have a clear and distinct border. Abnormal moles can have fuzzy, uneven or fading borders.
- Color: Healthy moles are one solid color. Two or more colors could be a sign of a suspicious mole.
- Diameter: Usually, normal moles will be 6mm in diameter or less, or the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolution: Any change in a mole, especially in a short amount of time, should be evaluated by a physician. It is important to have a good grasp on the size, shape and color of your moles so that change can be recognized quickly.
What If I Have a Suspicious Mole?
If you have any concern regarding a mole, having it evaluated is usually a quick appointment with your provider. If the lesion looks concerning, it may be measured and recorded for monitoring or a biopsy may be performed for more definitive diagnosis. Older patients, people with a history of sunburns or tanning, those with a large number of moles, patients with fair skin/red hair and those with a family history of melanoma should have their moles checked regularly.
What Causes Moles?
All skin contains melanocytes, cells that produce melanin and give your skin its particular color. When moles are present, these melanocytes have grown in clumps. Most moles are not harmful, but when they begin to change size, color or texture, they can be an indication that a more serious medical condition such as skin cancer is present. Having more moles that most people can correlate with a higher risk of developing melanoma.