Moles fall within a list of common and benign, meaning non-cancerous skin lesions that can appear anywhere on the skin alone or in clusters. Moles typically appear between early childhood and during the first 30 years of a person’s life and it is normal to have 10 to 40 moles by adulthood. Throughout the years, it is not uncommon for moles to undergo slow changes, such as becoming raised and/or changing color, and even develop hair.
Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of developing evenly and separately throughout the skin. These melanocyte cells are what gives skin its natural pigment, which is why they may darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.
The difference between the varying dangers of a mole depends on the type. Congenital nevi are moles that appear at birth and are more likely to develop into melanoma than moles that appear after birth. A mole or freckle should be checked if it is as big as the diameter of a pencil eraser or larger and also if it falls within any of the characteristics of melanoma’s ABCDEs.
Dysplastic nevi are moles that are larger than average, which is larger than a pencil eraser, and irregular in shape. They tend to have uneven color with dark brown centers and lighter, uneven edges. People with dysplastic nevi may have more than 100 moles and have a greater chance of developing melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer. Any changes in a mole should be checked by a dermatologist to evaluate for skin cancer.
Most moles aren’t dangerous, however moles that are of medical concern are ones that look different than other existing moles or those that first appear after age 30 or if they bleed, ooze, itch, or become tender or painful overtime. If you notice changes in a mole’s color, height, size, or shape, you should have it properly evaluated by your dermatologist.
Pay special attention to areas of the skin that are often exposed to the sun, such as the hands, arms, chest, neck, face, and ears, because again, melanocytes are affected by the sun.
A mole of concern can be removed in one dermatologist visit. A few moles may require a second visit. Whether it’s during 1 or 2 visits, a dermatologist can safely and easily remove a mole. A dermatologist will use 1 of these procedures: Surgical excision: The dermatologist cuts out the entire mole and stitches the skin closed. If the dermatologist suspects that the mole contains cancer, the dermatologist will send the mole to a lab and examined under a microscope to make sure the entire mole is removed. Surgical shave: The dermatologist uses a surgical blade to remove the mole.