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.