Almost everyone has experienced some type of mole, which is a discolored growth on the skin. Moles appear when there’s an overgrowth of skin pigmentation cells, but certain risk factors can make them more likely to appear.

It’s estimated that many adults have somewhere between 10 and 40 moles on their body.1 While most are harmless, there’s a chance that some moles may develop into melanoma—one of the most serious types of skin cancer.2

Types of Moles

There are several different types of moles, which you may also hear some healthcare providers refer to as nevi (the medical name for moles). These types include:13

    • Common (or acquired) mole: This harmless mole is typically smaller than the size of a pencil eraser, and can develop throughout a person’s lifetime. Common moles are described as being round or oval-shaped with a smooth surface, and may be some variation of pink, tan, or brown depending on your skin tone.
    • Congenital mole: This is a type of mole that you’re born with, and it affects somewhere around 1 in 100 people. A congenital mole can be small or large in size—and if it’s considered to be giant, a healthcare provider may recommend removing it. That’s because having a very large congenital mole can increase the chances for developing melanoma.
    • Atypical mole: These moles look like the skin cancer melanoma, but are not. They’re typically larger than a pencil eraser with an abnormal shape, and may have more than one color. People with four or more atypical moles may have a higher risk for melanoma.4
    • Spitz nevus: This type of mole looks similar to melanoma, particularly with its raised, dome-shaped, and sometimes pink or multi-colored appearance. Spitz nevi typically crop up before age 20, but older adults can develop them, too.

What Is Melanoma?

Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer that can develop in an existing or new mole.

Mole Symptoms

There typically aren’t any physical symptoms that come along with moles, other than noticing their appearance. But sometimes, moles can be itchy, or change in appearance if they are inflamed, like after being scratched. But common moles do have a specific set of features that distinguish them from a melanoma (skin cancer) or other skin growth.

Overall, experts say common moles are usually:

  • Mostly one color
  • Flat or raised slightly
  • Round or circular-shaped
  • Mostly unchanging in their appearance, at least in the short-term

While most common moles may share these similar characteristics, keep in mind that they can look different from person to person. For example, moles can:5

  • Appear anywhere on the skin, including areas like the soles of the feet, palms, scalp, and under the nails
  • Differ widely in shape, size, and color
  • Have hair growing on them
    • Perform skin self-exams
    • Keep your skin protected from the sun’s rays
    • See a healthcare provider right away if you notice a mole that is changing in appearance, itching, or bleeding
      • Suspected to be melanoma
      • Easily irritated
      • Raised to the point where it may be nicked by shaving
      • Snagging on items like clothing or jewelry
      • Bothersome in appearanceSeek out routine preventive skin exams from a healthcare provider, specially if you have 50 or more molesChange slowly overtime, get darker or lighter, or potentially disappear altogether

        What Causes Moles?

        Moles develop when there is an overgrowth of the skin cells known as melanocytes that give our skin its color.6

        This process commonly starts to happen during childhood and adolescence. Researchers have also noted that moles may be likely to develop when hormone levels are changing—like during puberty or pregnancy.7

        Risk Factors

        Anyone can develop a mole, but there are a few factors that can make it more likely that youwill. These include having:7

        How Ae oles Diagnosed?

        Many moles are harmless, and don’t necessarily require an official diagnosis.

        That said, it’s a good idea to keep a mental note of what any current moles on your body look like, so that you can have any suspicious-looking spots checked out by a healthcare provider. They’ll be able to visually examine your mole and potentially take a biopsy if needed to determine whether it’s a harmless growth, or a melanoma.

        Signs that a mole may be diagnosed as a melanoma include changes in the growth’s size, shape, color, or texture.2

        Treatments for Moles

        Most moles won’t require any specific treatment.

        But there are a couple of signs that could require a mole removal. This type of treatment is usually recommend when a mole is:8

    • Mole removal can take place in a healthcare provider’s office. They usually utilize a couple of different methods to do so:9

      • Surgical removal: It involves cutting out the entire mole from underneath the skin and using stitches to close the incision.
      • Surgical shaving: It involves using a professional blade tool to remove the mole from the top layer of the skin.

      If the mole is suspicious, a healthcare provider will send a skin cell sample to the laboratory so it can be checked out under the microscope.10

      Mole removal is not a DIY project that you should attempt at home. Experts warn that trying to remove one yourself could lead to injuries, infection, or scarring—and even potentially delay diagnosis and treatment of skin disease, like melanoma.11

      How to Prevent Moles

      While there’s no surefire way to prevent moles from developing, there are a couple of tips that experts recommend for protecting your skin health overall.12

  • Complications

    A main potential complication of having moles is melanoma. If you have numerous moles, data shows you’re more likely to be at an increased risk for developing melanoma.7

    If a skin growth that’s actually a melanoma goes untreated, there is the potential for this cancer to spread to other parts of the body such as the:1

    • Nearby tissues
    • Lungs
    • Bones
    • Liver
    • Brain

    A Quick Review

    Moles are super common, and most people have them. That said, while there are different types of moles, some can develop into melanoma—the most serious form of cancer.

    It’s important that you observe your moles, check routinely for differences, and talk to a healthcare providers (such as a dermatologist) if you notice any changes or concerns.

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