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When to Get a Mole Looked At

25 May 2022

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Take a minute and glance over your skin. You’ll probably find at least a few skin growths known as moles. These relatively harmless spots appear on just about everyone’s skin – it’s even common for adults to have as many as 10 to 40 moles. 

In some cases, though, moles can turn into a dangerous form of skin cancer called melanoma. But how do you know what is normal and what is concerning? This blog will help you determine when to call a dermatologist to get your mole looked at.

What are skin moles?

Your skin and eyes consist of pigment-forming cells called melanocytes. These cells transfer melanin to give your skin and eyes its color. Melanocytes are normally spread out across your skin, but they can grow in clusters or groups to form moles. Genetics and sun exposure are believed to play a role in mole development.

Moles aren’t dangerous, but the skin cells can mutate and undergo DNA changes that become cancerous cells. Most often, this is due to family history or an environmental factor such as chronic sun exposure without wearing sunscreen or prolonged use of tanning beds.

Types of moles on skin

Most types of skin moles fall under the common mole category. These benign skin clusters are harmless. Here are some other types of moles that can lead to skin cancer.

Atypical moles: Also called dysplastic nevi, these moles grow in an irregular shape and are larger than a pencil eraser. Unlike common moles that are one color (usually brown or pink), atypical moles are a mix of various colors. They typically appear on your body and are rarely on the face. People with four or more atypical moles have a higher risk of developing melanoma.

Congenital moles: These moles are present at birth and can either be small or larger. The bigger the congenital mole, the higher the risk you have of developing melanoma. 

Spitz nevus: These rare types of moles are usually pink with a raised surface that resembles a dome. Spitz nevus typically appear before adulthood.

How to know if a mole is cancerous

If you notice a mole developing on your skin or have had a mole present for quite some time, there are a few visible signs to look for.

In general, moles have the following characteristics:

  • One color
  • Round
  • Flat or slightly raised
  • Remain unchanged over time (month to month)

Moles that fit these basic criteria are unlikely to be cancerous. However, there are certain characteristics that can indicate something more serious.

ABCDE of moles

Should you have questions about whether your mole is benign or malignant, a mole that fits in one or more of the following five categories is a warning sign that you should see a dermatologist for further examination. 

Asymmetry: Both sides of the mole should look the same. Asymmetrical moles do not match the other half.

Border: The edge of the mole may be irregular or scalloped.

Color: The mole may have several shades of color, ranging from tan to red.

Diameter: The size of the mole may be larger than 6 mm, or the width of a pencil eraser.

Evolution: A mole shouldn’t change much. Cancerous moles can become raised over time.

Aside from these signs, you should also contact your dermatologist if your existing mole starts to bleed, itch or become painful.

How to take care of a mole

The most important thing you can do is to keep tabs on your mole with monthly self examinations. Moles can form anywhere, including hard-to-see areas such as your scalp, fingernails and toenails, so a thorough check is needed.

While your skin is wet, examine your skin from the head down to the feet, looking for any areas that have a different shape, color or border. Take a photo of the mole to keep tabs on it. You can also use a ruler to see the size has increased.

It’s important to keep tabs on moles if you were born with large congenital moles (more than 2 inches in diameter) or have a family history of melanoma. Atypical moles also tend to run in families and should be monitored in case they develop into skin cancer. New moles that form after the age of 30 generally should warrant a trip to the dermatologist.

How to get rid of moles on skin

Should any irregularities occur, your dermatologist will take a skin biopsy to analyze the cells. A cancerous mole will need to be removed. Benign moles aren’t typically removed because they will leave a scar.

To remove a mole, your doctor will first administer a numbing agent to limit pain at the incision site. There are three ways to remove it:

Surgical shave – This type of procedure uses a sharp blade (similar to a razor) to shave off the mole and its surrounding skin.

Punch excision – This type of procedure uses a tool to remove a larger area of skin along with the mole. Stitches are sometimes needed to close the wound.

Surgical excision – This type of procedure uses a scalpel to remove the mole and its surrounding skin. Stitches are sometimes needed to close the wound.

Whatever you do, never attempt to remove a mole at home as it can cause permanent scarring and increase your chance of infection. Plus, in the event you unknowingly attempt to remove a malignant mole, doing so without a trained professional can actually spread cancer cells throughout the rest of your body.

When in doubt, contact a dermatologist to examine any moles you think may be suspicious. The team at INTEGRIS Health dermatology can biopsy your mole to determine if it is cancerous.

 

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