Among the several common skin lesions, moles are skin growths that often appear as small, dark brown or black spots caused by clusters of pigmented skin cells. Most moles are harmless, but they can become cancerous. While most moles appear on the skin during childhood and adolescence, moles normally grow and change over time. New moles or changes to existing moles may be a sign of skin cancer, such as melanoma. Caught early, melanoma is generally treatable. The best way to ensure your moles and skin are healthy is to contact your dermatologist in Gainesville, FL, for regular skin check ups and medical dermatology treatments.
Dermatology Associates is a full-service dermatology practice dedicated to providing Gainesville residents with high-quality medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology services. Contact our dermatologists in Gainesville to schedule an appointment!
What Are Moles?
The skin is the largest organ in the body. A skin mole, or a nevus, is a skin growth which may range in color from a person’s natural skin tone to brown, black, or more. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin or on mucous membranes, like the membranes lining the mouth, tongue, stomach, esophagus, and intestines. While most skin moles appear during early childhood and the first 35 years of a person’s life, moles can develop at any age. It is considered normal for a person to have anywhere between 10–40 moles by their adulthood years.
Over time, most moles change slowly, becoming raised and lighter in pigmentation. In many cases, hairs can develop on moles. Some moles, however, will not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over the years. Certain changes to moles, such as darkening and lightening or growth from childhood to adulthood, are expected and are seldom a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer. For adults, new moles and changes to existing moles, however, can be signs of melanoma. When caught early, melanoma may be treatable.
What Causes A Mole?
Moles on skin occur when the skin’s cells grow in a cluster instead of developing spread out throughout the skin. These clustered cells are called melanocytes. Melanocytes make the pigment that gives the skin it’s natural color. Moles exist in all tones and colors. White skin moles and lighter-colored moles can turn into dark skin moles when exposed to natural sunlight, as well as during teenage years and during pregnancy.
Types Of Moles
There are four common types of moles: congenital nevi, dysplastic nevi, acquired nevi, and spitz nevi. For more information about the different types of moles and your treatment options, please contact Dermatology Associates.
Congenital moles are discovered on your skin when you are born. Congenital nevi only occur in about 1 in 100 people. This type of mole may carry a higher risk of developing into melanoma than new skin moles appearing after birth. If your skin mole is more than 8 millimeters in diameter, it has a higher chance of becoming cancerous than those that are smaller in size. Contact us for more information about congenital moles.
Acquired moles are moles developed after birth. Most of these moles are usually less than a quarter-inch in size. Many of these form in childhood and early adulthood, though they may develop at any time. New moles appearing on skin are a normal development and it does not mean that these moles are cancerous. If you have 50 or more acquired moles, however, you may be at a higher risk for developing melanoma.
Commonly referred to as atypical moles or Clark’s nevus, dysplastic nevi affect approximately 1 in 10 Americans. These moles are larger in size than common moles, and they have borders that are irregularly shaped and poorly defined. Atypical moles vary in color that range from tan to dark brown. They have irregular borders, sometimes with notches. They can fade into surrounding skin. These are among the features we see when looking at melanoma. These moles tend to be inherited or hereditary and people who have them may have more than 100 moles. If you have these moles, you have a greater chance of developing cancerous melanoma.
Spitz nevi can be hard to distinguish from melanoma without a biopsy. These moles are often raised, pink in color, and somewhat dome-shaped. There may be multiple colors within the mole, such as red, black and brown. This type of mole can bleed or leak pus. If this happens, you should notify your doctor right away. A Spitz nevus is a rare type of skin mole that usually affects young people and children. These moles are not considered cancerous.
Complications Of Moles
Melanoma is the primary complication of moles. Some individuals have a higher than average risk of their moles developing cancer and becoming melanoma. Factors that increase your risk of developing skin cancer in your moles include being born with large moles, as these congenital moles pose a somewhat higher risk of cancer. Having unusual moles, such as moles larger than a common mole and irregular in shape (dysplastic nevi), also put you at a higher risk of developing malignant melanoma. Another risk factor is having more than 50 ordinary moles as well as having a personal history or a family history of melanoma. If you have previously been diagnosed with melanoma, you have a higher risk of developing the cancer again. Additionally, atypical moles can result in a genetic form of melanoma.
How To Remove Moles
Your dermatologist can identify moles by looking at your skin. We recommend choosing to make skin examinations a regular aspect of your preventative medical care protocol. During your skin exam, your dermatologist will inspect your skin from head to toe. If a mole is suspected of being cancerous or abnormal, your dermatologist may take a tissue sample (skin biopsy) for microscopic examination. Most moles do not require treatment. If your mole is suspected of having cancer cells, however, your dermatologist will perform a surgical procedure to remove it.
If your move causes you irritation, such as being in an area where you shave regularly, it may be beneficial to get it removed. Surgical excision of a mole takes only a short time and is usually performed on an outpatient basis. Your doctor will numb the skin around the mole before cutting the mole out, along with a margin of healthy skin (as necessary). Depending on the size and location of the mole and margin or health skin excised, the procedure may leave a scar. If you notice that a mole has grown back after having been removed, see your dermatologist promptly.
Unusual Moles That May Indicate Melanoma
This guide, known as the ABCDE guide, can help you identify moles or a lesion that may indicate the presence of melanoma or other skin cancers. For more information, please contact our dermatology office.
- Asymmetrical Shape. One half of the mole is unlike the other half.
- Border. The mole has an irregular, notched, or scalloped border.
- Color. Growths that have changed in color, have multiple colors, or an uneven color.
- Diameter. Moles that are larger than a quarter inch, or 6 millimeters, in size.
- Evolving. Moles that change in shape, size, color, or height, especially if a portion of the mole turns black. Look out for signs of itchiness and bleeding in the mole.
Can Moles Be Prevented?
While not all moles can be prevented, there are a number of measures you can take to help limit the development of moles as well as the primary complication of moles — melanoma.
Become Familiar With Your Skin
Watch for changes in your skin and moles. Become familiar with the placement and pattern of the moles on your skin. Perform regular self examinations (about once each month), especially if you have a previous history of melanoma or a family history of skin cancer. Using a mirror, inspect your skin from head to toe, including the skin on your face, ears, neck, scalp, palms, and fingernails, as well as your armpits, chest, legs, and feet. Don’t forget to check the soles of your feet and the spaces between your ties. Also check your genital area and your buttocks.
Visit Your Dermatologist
Talk with your dermatologist about your risk factors for melanoma. Schedule professional skin examinations on a routine basis to help ensure your skin remains healthy and cancer-free. The earlier skin cancer is identified and treated, the greater the chances of successful treatment. The vast majority of moles are not dangerous. Moles that are more likely to be cancerous are those that appear different from other, existing moles or those that first appear after the age of 35. If you notice changes in a mole’s color, height, size, or shape, contact your dermatologist.
Protect Your Skin
You should take measures to protect your skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation, such as from natural sunlight or from the use of tanning beds. UV radiation is linked to increased melanoma risk. Children who don’t have adequate sun protection tend to develop a greater number of moles than those who do. Be sure to avoid peak sun exposure, when the sun is strongest (between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.). Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun-protection factor (SPF) of at least 35 to all areas of your skin about 30 minutes before going outdoors, even when it’s cloudy. Apply it generously and reapply it every 2 hours. If you are swimming or sweating, apply it more often. Wearing sun-protective clothing, such as wide-brimmed hats, long sleeves, and other protective clothing can help you avoid harmful UV rays. You might also consider purchasing clothing made from fabric specifically treated to block UV radiation (UPF-rated clothing). Last, avoid tanning lamps and beds.