A mole is a common, benign growth composed of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells in the skin. A mole may be present at birth or appear later in life. Non-pigmented moles exist and may appear pink, red or flesh-colored. If they contain the pigment melanin, they may display brown, black or blue color. Fair-skinned individuals tend to have more moles than those with darker skin. They may appear anywhere on the body including the scalp, palms, soles and genitals. Heredity and sun exposure will both determine the number and type of moles to appear on a person’s skin.
How Can I Monitor Moles for Skin Cancer?
While the vast majority of moles are benign and remain that way over an individual’s lifetime, some do progress to become melanoma, a type of skin cancer. It is important to monitor moles for changing appearance and behavior over time. A useful tool for monitoring moles for suspicious characteristics is the ABCDE method:
- Asymmetry: If you draw a line through the mole, the two halves do not match.
- Border: Uneven or notched border as opposed to a smooth one.
- Color: Different shades of brown, black, blue, pink and/or white in the same mole.
- Diameter: Greater than 6 mm, or the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolving: Rapid changes in the above characteristics.
Detecting Cancerous Moles
Other features that may be cause for alarm would be a bleeding or tender mole, a mole that does not resemble others found on the same person, and a new mole in someone over the age of 40. Melanoma may develop in a mole that has been present for many years, or it may spontaneously develop in an area of normal skin. Regular self-skin exams are recommended so new and changing growths can be more easily identified. If you have a large number of moles, moles in areas that you cannot see, or if you have a family history of melanoma, regular skin exams by a dermatology provider are also recommended.
Why Choose the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery for Mole Evaluation?
At the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery, all our providers are trained in dermoscopy, a method in which we use a tool to magnify and evaluate skin growths. Dermoscopy has quickly become the standard of care for differentiating benign moles from those that are potentially cancerous. In some cases, a biopsy is necessary to rule out melanoma. Biopsies can be quickly and easily performed, usually on the same day as the initial evaluation. If you have a concerning mole, please schedule an appointment to have it evaluated by one of our skilled providers.