Moles are skin lesions that can appear anywhere on the body including the palms and soles, scalp and even under the nails. The lesions are so common that virtually everyone has them. In fact, by the time we reach adulthood, most of us have between 10 to 40 moles.
Moles occur when skin cells called melanocytes clump together instead of spreading out to different areas. They are typically round in shape and range in color from tan to dark brown or black. Moles can be raised or flat and can appear as a single lesion or together in clusters.
The majority of moles are completely harmless, but some moles can develop into melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer that can grow and spread to other parts of the body. For this reason, it’s important to check your moles frequently for changes.
Knowing the ABCDEs of melanoma can help you recognize important changes in moles and seek treatment in the early stages when melanoma is the most treatable.
- Asymmetry – if you draw a line through the mole are both sides identical? In melanoma one side of the mole is different from the other
- Border – the edges of a normal mole are smooth and defined. Irregular, notched or uneven edges could point to melanoma
- Color – moles come in a variety of colors, but multiple colors in the same mole means you should have the lesion checked by your dermatologist
- Diameter – large moles, bigger in diameter than the eraser on the end of a pencil, are more likely to be melanoma
- Evolving – if you notice a mole is changing in size, shape, or color or you experience other changes such as bleeding, crusting or itching, it’s time to schedule an appointment at a dermatology clinic
Most moles are perfectly normal and don’t require any treatment, but suspicious moles, and on occasion, moles that rub on clothing or become irritated can be removed by a dermatologist. It’s also a good idea to schedule a dermatological exam if you have 50 or more moles. You could have familial atypical multiple mole-melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome, a medical condition that places you at higher risk for melanoma.
One important point: never shave a mole or try to remove it on your own, since this can lead to infection or scarring. It’s best to let your dermatologist handle mole removal, as he or she will be able to give you a more appropriate diagnosis.
What you can do at home is periodically examine all moles for changes, protect your skin from the sun with sunscreen and protective clothing, and avoid tanning beds and sun lamps.