What is a mole?
Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups.
Most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 30 years of a person’s life. It is normal to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood.
As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming raised and/or changing color. Often, hairs develop on the mole. Some moles may not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over time.
Are moles common?
Moles are common. Almost every adult has a few moles. Adults who have light skin often have more moles. They may have 10 to 40 moles on their skin. This is normal.
You should not be overly worried about your moles. But you should know:
- A type of skin cancer, melanoma, can grow in or near a mole.
- Caught early and treated, melanoma can be cured.
- The first sign of melanoma is often a change to a mole — or a new mole on your skin.
- Checking your skin can help you find melanoma early. A dermatologist can show you how to examine your skin and tell you how often you should check your skin.
What causes a mole to form?
Moles occur when cells in the skin grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. These cells are called melanocytes, and they make the pigment that gives skin its natural color. Moles may darken after exposure to the sun, during the teen years, and during pregnancy.
A mole or freckle should be checked if it has a diameter of more than a pencil eraser or any characteristics of the ABCDEs of Melanoma.
Are there many types of moles?
Almost every adult has a few moles. Most adults have a type of mole called a common mole. There are other types of moles. Some types increase a person’s risk for getting melanoma, a type of skin cancer. These moles are described below.
Atypical mole (dysplastic)
This type of mole can look like melanoma. It is not melanoma. But you have a higher risk of getting melanoma if you have:
- 4 or more atypical moles.
- Already had a melanoma.
- A first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child ) who had melanoma.
Dr. Kolachalam may call an atypical mole a dysplastic (dis-plas-tic) nevus.
Atypical moles are often:
- Larger than an eraser on the end of a pencil.
- Have an odd shape (not round).
- Show more than 1 color — mixes of tan, brown, red, and pink.
Atypical moles can appear anywhere on the body. They often appear on the trunk. And they may appear on the scalp, head, and neck. Atypical moles rarely appear on the face.
Some people who have many atypical moles have a medical condition called familial atypical multiple mole-melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome.
People with FAMMM syndrome have:
- Many moles — more than 50.
- Some moles that are atypical.
- A blood relative who has (or had) melanoma.
How Do I Know if a Mole Is Cancer?
The vast majority of moles are not dangerous. The only moles that are of medical concern are those that look different than other existing moles or those that first appear after age 30.
- If you notice changes in a mole’s color, height, size, or shape, you should have a dermatologist (skin doctor) evaluate it.
- You also should have moles checked if they bleed, ooze, itch, or become tender or painful.
Examine your skin with a mirror or ask someone to help you. 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.
If a mole does not change over time, there is little reason for concern. If you see any signs of change in an existing mole, if you have a new mole, or if you want a mole to be removed for cosmetic reasons, talk to Dr. Kolachalam.
What is Melanoma?
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. Anyone can get melanoma. When found early and treated, the cure rate is nearly 100%. Allowed to grow, melanoma can spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can spread quickly. When melanoma spreads, it can be deadly. Dr. Kolachalam believes that the number of deaths from melanoma would be much lower if people:
- Know the warning signs of melanoma.
- Learned how to examine their skin for signs of skin cancer.
- Took the time to examine their skin.
It’s important to take time to look at the moles on your skin because this is a good way to find melanoma early. When checking your skin, you should look for the ABCDEs of Melanoma.
Signs of melanoma
The most common early signs (what you see) of melanoma are:
- Growing mole on your skin.
- Unusual looking mole on your skin or a mole that does not look like any other mole on your skin (the ugly duckling).
- Non-uniform mole (has an odd shape, uneven or uncertain border, different colors).
Symptoms of melanoma
In the early stages, melanoma may not cause any symptoms (what you feel). But sometimes melanoma will:
- Feel painful.
Many melanomas have these signs and symptoms, but not all. There are actually different types of melanoma. One type can first appear as a brown or black streak underneath a fingernail or toenail. Melanoma also can look like a bruise that just won’t heal.