Moles

About

Moles

What are skin moles?

Moles are universal - everyone has at least a few. But when new ones grow, or you notice changes in an existing mole, it’s time to see your dermatologist. Moles are the most common type of skin growth, and are usually small, dark brown spots. Moles (the medical term is nevi) are caused by clusters of pigmented (colored) cells. Most moles develop from childhood into the teen years. It’s normal to have 10 to 40 moles by adulthood.  

The vast majority of moles (the medical name is nevi) are harmless. However, when new moles appear after age 30, or existing moles change in terms of look, feel, size, itchiness, irritation, bleeding or oozing, they need to be evaluated for melanoma. Although it’s rare, melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, and can be fatal. However, it can be treated successfully if diagnosed early. 

Do I need to worry about moles?

Not unless you notice a change in a mole or a new mole(s) develops after age 30. Melanoma can develop from a mole.

Are there different types of moles? 

There are other skin growths that are similar to common moles, including:

  • Congenital nevi are moles you are born with. They are slightly more likely to develop into melanoma than a common mole. 
  • Dysplastic nevi are larger moles that are irregular in shape, with uneven edges and uneven color. Larger moles - more than two inches in diameter - are also slightly more likely to develop into melanoma. Large moles tend to run in families. 
  • Freckles are small brown spots on the face, neck, chest and arms. Extremely common and harmless, freckles are most common on fair-skinned people, especially redheads. They’re more common in the summer due to sun exposure. 
  • Skin tag is a small piece of tissue that hangs off the skin by a connecting stalk. They are harmless and are most commonly found on the neck, chest, back, armpits, under breasts or groin area. Skin tags can become irritated if they rub against skin or clothing. They are more likely to develop in women and older people. 
  • Letigo is a spot on the skin that is darker than surrounding skin. Caused by ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds, they are more common on fair-skinned people. They can also be caused by radiation therapy.
  • Seborrheic keratoses are brown or black skin growths that look like warts. Most common on the chest, back and head, they are more common in older people. The cause is unknown. They are not contagious, and rarely linked to melanoma.  
  • Spitz nevus are pink or reddish bumps that are raised and dome-shaped. They can also be multicolored, bleed or ooze fluid, and look very much like melanoma.

Causes

What causes skin moles?

Moles form when certain skin cells grow in a cluster instead of being evenly distributed across the skin. These cells are called melanocytes; they produce the pigment that gives skin its color. Moles can darken with sun exposure, and during pregnancy or adolescence. The average size mole has a diameter smaller than a pencil eraser. 

Who’s at risk for complications from moles?

The chief risk of moles is skin cancer. You’re more likely to develop skin cancer if you:

  • Have many moles - more than 50 ordinary moles can increase your risk of melanoma. A recent study linked breast cancer in women who had a large number of moles. 
  • Have a family history of melanoma or have had it yourself. 
  • Have atypical moles, which can lead to a genetic type of melanoma. 
  • Were born with a very large mole increases the risk of developing melanoma.

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Symptoms

Do moles have symptoms?

Moles can develop anywhere on the body. While most moles are a small brown spot, they can also have a lot of variety. For example:

  • Size can vary from ¼ inch in diameter to large enough to cover wide areas of an infant’s face, torso or arm. 
  • Color can range from brown or black, to tan, red, bluish or pink.
  • Texture can vary from flat and smooth to slightly raised or wrinkled. Some have hair growing from them. 
  • Shape is mostly round or oval.

Moles that should be checked by a dermatologist for melanoma may have one or more of these characteristics:

  • Asymmetrical in shape; one half doesn’t look like the other half
  • Borders are irregular, notched or wavy
  • Color may have changed; color may be uneven or include several colors
  • Diameter is larger than a pencil eraser, and growing
  • Evolving in terms of size, shape and color, or it may become itchy or bleed

Moles can cause other discomfort such as snagging on clothing or jewelry and become irritated. A raised mole in an area where you shave can cause you to nick it and it will bleed. If you consider a prominent mole to be a blemish rather than a beauty mark, you may want to have it removed. This can improve your self-confidence and make you feel more comfortable. 

Diagnosis

Do moles need to be diagnosed?

Your dermatologist can identify moles by looking at them. Checking all the moles on your body regularly is an important part of preventive health care. If any mole looks like it might be cancerous, your dermatologist may recommend a biopsy (remove a small sample of tissue) to make a more accurate diagnosis.

Treatment

What are the treatment options for moles?

The majority of moles don’t need any treatment. If a mole bothers you or it’s irritated by clothing, you may want to have it removed. It can be done during an office visit. The dermatologist will cut out the entire mole, or shave it off using a surgical blade. Depending on the size, it may need stitches to close the wound and it can leave a permanent scar. After it’s removed, it will be checked under a microscope for cancer cells. If it returns, it could be a sign of melanoma. See your dermatologist as soon as possible. 

Never try to remove a mole yourself. If it is skin cancer, some of the cancer cells can remain and spread. You could also scar your skin or cause an infection. 

If you need to have seborrheic keratosis removed, it can be done by cutting it off, freezing it (cryosurgery), or burning it off with electric current (electrosurgery).

A skin tag can be removed by cutting it off, or with cryosurgery or electrosurgery. 

A letigo can be treated with cryosurgery, laser surgery, or by using topical retinoids or bleaching cream.

References

Mayo Clinic (Nov. 2019). Moles. Retrieved 9-24-21, {https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/moles/symptoms-causes/syc-20375200#:~:text=Moles%20are%20a%20common%20type,or%20fade%20away%20over%20time}
Mayo Clinic (Nov. 2019). Moles: Diagnosis and Treatment. Retrieved 9-24-21, {https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/moles/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20375204}
American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.). Moles: Overview. Retrieved 9-24-21, {https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/moles-overview}
American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.). Moles: Who Gets and Types. Retrieved 9-24-21, {https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/moles-types}
American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.). Moles: Signs and Symptoms. Retrieved 9-24-21, {https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/moles-symptoms}
American Academy of Dermatology Association. (n.d.). Moles: Diagnosis and Treatment. Retrieved 9-24-21, {https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/a-z/moles-treatment}
WebMD. (Aug. 2021). Moles, Freckles and Skin Tags. Retrieved 9-24-21. {https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/guide/moles-freckles-skin-tags}

Information

Medically reviewed by:

Dr. Javeed Siddiqui, MD, MPH

Dr. Siddiqui is the Chief Medical Officer at TeleMed2U responsible for clinical and technical program development as well as maintaining a thriving telemedicine practice in infectious diseases which includes specialized care of Hepatitis and HIV.

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with or without insurance

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Your copay
Depending on insurance

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Initial Visit

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Follow Up