Moles are common. Almost every adult has a few of them. Adults who have light skin often have more moles. They may have 10 to 40 moles on their skin. This is normal.
Most moles appear on the skin during childhood and adolescence. Moles will grow as the child (or teen) grows. Some moles will darken, and others will lighten. These changes are expected and seldom a sign of melanoma, the most-serious skin cancer.
For adults, new moles and changes to existing moles can be a sign of melanoma. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable.
Here are 3 facts that can help you find melanoma early and get treatment:
- A change to a mole or a new mole is often the first sign of melanoma.
- You can find melanoma early by checking your own skin.
- If you see a mole or other spot that’s growing, itching, bleeding, or changing in any way, immediately make an appointment to see a dermatologist.
A mole on your body usually has these traits.
- One color – Often brown, but a mole can be tan, black, red, pink, blue, skin-toned, or colorless.
- Round in shape.
- Flat or slightly raised.
- Unchanged from month to month.
ABCDEs of Melanoma
Although moles have a distinct look, they may not look alike. Even in the same person, moles can differ in size, shape, or color. Moles can have hair. Some moles will change slowly over time, possibly even disappearing.
It’s also important to know that moles can appear anywhere on the skin. They can develop on your scalp, between your fingers and toes, on the soles and palms, and even under your nails.
The most-serious skin cancer differs from moles in that it tends to show one or more of the following traits:
A = Asymmetry. One half is unlike the other.
B = Border. An irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
C = Color. Is varied from one area to another; has shades of tan, brown, or black; is sometimes white, red, or blue.
D = Diameter. Melanoma are usually greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, but they can be smaller.
E = Evolving. A mole or skin lesion that looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
How do dermatologists tell whether a spot is a mole?
A dermatologist’s trained eye can often tell whether a spot is a mole.
How do dermatologists treat moles?
- Most moles do not require treatment. A dermatologist will remove a mole that:
- Bothersome (rubs against clothing, etc.)
- Unattractive to a patient
- Suspicious (could be skin cancer)
A dermatologist can usually remove a mole during an office visit. Most removals require only 1 office visit. Occasionally, a patient may need to return for a second visit.
Whether it’s during 1 or 2 visits, a dermatologist can safely and easily remove a mole. A dermatologist will use one of these procedures:
Surgical excision: The dermatologist cuts out the entire mole and stitches the skin closed if necessary. Your mole will also be looked at under a microscope by a specially trained doctor. This is done to check for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, your dermatologist will let you know.
Surgical shave: The dermatologist uses a surgical blade to remove the mole. In most cases, a specially trained doctor will examine your mole under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, your dermatologist will let you know.
Never try to remove a mole at home
While it may seem more convenient to shave off or cut out a mole yourself, there are 3 very good reasons a dermatologist should remove it:
- Skin cancer: If the mole contains skin cancer, some of the cancer cells can stay in the skin and even spread.
- Scarring: You can disfigure your skin causing a scar.
- Infection: A dermatologist uses sterile equipment to prevent infection.
After a mole is removed, the skin will heal. If the mole grows back, immediately make another appointment to see your dermatologist. This could be a sign of melanoma, the most-serious type of skin cancer.