Moles: Types, Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Moles are a member of the family of skin lesions known as nevi.

Moles are a common type of growth on the skin. They often appear as small, dark brown spots and are caused by clusters of pigmented cells. Moles generally appear during childhood and adolescence. Most of the people have ten to forty five moles, the majority of that seem before age forty. Some moles might fade or disappear as you age.

Most moles are harmless. Rarely, they become cancerous. Monitoring moles and alternative pigmented patches is a very important step in detecting skin cancer, particularly melanoma.

There are many skin lesions that are quite common and benign (non-cancerous). These conditions embody moles, freckles, skin tags, benign lentigines, and seborrheic keratoses.

Types of moles

There are many different types of moles, the most common are:

  • junctional melanocytic naevi  these are usually brown, round and flat
  • dermal melanocytic naevi  these are usually raised, pale and sometimes hairy
  • compound melanocytic naevi  these are usually raised above the skin, light brown and sometimes hairy

Rarer types of moles include:

  • halo naevi moles surrounded by a white ring where the skin has lost its colour
  • dysplastic or atypical naevi (also known as Clark naevi) unusual looking and slightly larger moles that can be a range of colours and either flat or bumpy
  • blue naevi dark blue moles

Moles in children

Moles on a young child’s skin are usually nothing to worry. It’s normal for new moles to appear throughout childhood and adolescence. Moles can grow as the kid grows. Some moles can darken, and others can lighten. These changes are expected in kids and rarely a sign of melanoma a sort of skin cancer that may start in a mole.

Causes of Moles

The genes we inherit from our parents, along with the amount of sun to which we are exposed (especially during childhood) are major factors in determining mole numbers. Skin with more sun exposure tends to have more moles. However, moles may also occur in sun-protected areas like the palms, soles, and genitals.

Both moles and freckles (medically termed ephelides) are darker than the surrounding skin. Moles may be raised or completely flat while freckles are always totally flat. Freckles and “sun spots” (medically termed lentigines) are due to an increase in the amount of dark pigment called melanin. Moles are more common in people prone to freckles. Freckles are flat spots that are tan, slightly reddish, or light-brown and typically appear during the sunny months. They are most often found in people with light complexions. Many people with blond or red hair and green or blue eyes are more prone to these types of skin spots. Sun avoidance and sun protection, including the regular use of sunscreen may help to suppress the appearance of some types of moles and freckles.

Moles occur in all races (Caucasian, Asian, African, and Indian) and skin colors. Moles also are seen in animals.

Can a Mole turn into melanoma?

Yes, but a common mole rarely turns into melanoma, which is the most serious type of skin cancer.

Although common moles are not cancerous, people who have more than 50 common moles have an increased chance of developing melanoma.

People should tell their doctor if they notice any of the following changes in a common mole:

  • The color changes
  • The mole gets unevenly smaller or bigger (unlike normal moles in children, which get evenly bigger)
  • The mole changes in shape, texture, or height
  • The skin on the surface becomes dry or scaly
  • The mole becomes hard or feels lumpy
  • It starts to itch
  • It bleeds or oozes

Symptoms of Moles

The typical mole is a brown spot. But moles come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes:

  • Color and texture. Moles can be brown, tan, black, red, blue or pink. They can be smooth, wrinkled, flat or raised. They may have hair growing from them.
  • Shape. They can vary in shape from oval to round.
  • Size. Moles are usually less than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters) in diameter  the size of a pencil eraser. Rarely, moles present at birth can be much bigger, covering wide areas of the face, torso or a limb.

Moles can develop anywhere on your body, including your scalp, armpits, under your nails, and between your fingers and toes. Most people have 10 to 45 moles. Most of these develop by age 40. Moles may change in appearance over time  some may even disappear with age. Hormonal changes of adolescence and pregnancy may cause moles to become darker, larger and more numerous.

Unusual moles that may indicate melanoma

This ABCDE guide can help you determine if a mole or a spot may be melanoma:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape. One half is unlike the other half.
  • B is for border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders.
  • C is for color. Look for growths that have changed color, have many colors or have uneven color.
  • D is for diameter. Look for new growth in amole larger than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters).
  • E is for evolving. Watch for moles that change in size, shape, color or height, especially if part or all of a mole turns black.

Cancerous (malignant) moles vary greatly in appearance. Some may show all of the features listed above. Others may have only one or two.

How Are Moles Treated?

If a dermatologist believes a mole needs to be evaluated further or removed entirely, he or she will either remove the entire mole, or first take just a small tissue sample of the mole to examine thin sections of the tissue under a microscope (a biopsy). This is a simple procedure. (If the dermatologist thinks the mole might be cancerous, cutting through the mole will not cause the cancer to spread.)

If the mole is found to be cancerous, and only a small section of tissue was taken, the dermatologist will remove the entire mole by cutting out the entire mole and a rim of normal skin around it, and stitching the wound closed.

Checking your skin

You should check your skin every few months for any new moles that develop (particularly after your teenage years, when new moles become less common) or any changes to existing moles. A mole can change in weeks or months.

Things to look for include:

  • moles with uneven colouring  most moles only have one or two colours, but melanomas have lots of different shades
  • moles with an uneven or ragged edge  moles are usually circular or oval with a smooth border
  • bleeding, itching, red, inflamed (swollen) or crusty moles
  • moles that get a lot bigger  most moles are no bigger than the width of a pencil

A helpful way to remember what to look for is to use the ABCDE method.

  • A – asymmetry
  • B – border irregularity
  • C – colour change
  • D – diameter
  • E – elevated (raised) or enlarged

Moles like this can occur anywhere on your body, but most happen on the back, legs, arms and face.

If you notice any changes to your moles or are worried about them, see your GP. Changes to a mole may be an early indication of a type of skin cancer called melanoma.

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