Introduction to Moles

Moles, scientifically known as melanocytic naevi are small colored spots made of melanocytes.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What are Moles?

Moles, scientifically known as melanocytic naevi are small coloured spots made of melanocytes. They are usually brown in colour or can be darker. They can also vary in feel, ranging from a flat or raised, to smooth or hairy. They usually tend to have a circular shape with a smooth edge.

Some moles can be found at birth, though most tend to develop during the first 25-30 years of life. There is also a genetic element to moles, where you are more likely to have them if they are common in your family. Sun exposure can also bring them about.

Moles can also change in number and appearance; from fading away over time to responding to hormonal changes. These include during pregnancy, when they can become darker, to increasing in number during the teenage years and even disappearing during old age.

What causes Moles?

Harmless moles make up a majority of moles. However, it is highly recommended to check your skin for any new moles that develop or changes to existing moles. Changes in moles can include but are not limited to uneven or several different colours to one mole, a ragged or uneven edge, bleeding, itchy, red, and growth. Changes can be a sign of melanoma which is an aggressive form of skin cancer. However, most moles can be benign.

What are the symptoms of Moles?

As there are many different types of moles, there are also 3 main types. These are; junctional melanocytic naevi, which are usually brown in colour, flat and round, dermal melanocytic naevi which pale in colour, raised and sometimes hairy. The final main common type of mole are compound melanocytic naevi, which are also raised above the skin and sometimes hairy, but light brown in colour.

How are Moles treated?

For non-cancerous moles, they can be removed via cosmetic mole surgery, where the surgeon may just make the mole level with your skin, a process called a shave excision. Cauterisation follows this to close the wound.

For moles that are cancerous, the main treatment is surgery, which will depend on your individual circumstances and what your physician thinks is best.

What is the difference between a normal or common mole (nevus) and an Atypical mole?

Both normal or common moles (nevus) and Atypical moles start non-cancerous (benign). You can be born with moles, although most will develop throughout childhood and you may continue to get new moles up until the age of 40. The majority of people will have between 10 and 40 normal moles. Normal  moles do not increase your risk of getting skin cancer

An Atypical mole will normally have subtle differences to a normal mole in appearance although most never develop into melanoma, Atypical moles can increase the risk of developing skin cancer (melanoma).

What does a normal mole look like?

  • Shape: a normal or common mole is normally slightly raised, round or oval
  • Size: smaller than 5mm in diameter and has a smooth edge
  • Colour: can range from pink to a dark brown, the main indication the mole is normal is the colour is usually the same across the entire mole

What does and Atypical mole (Dysplastic Nevus) look like?

  • Shape: can be both flat, bumpy or raised and tend to be an irregular shape or asymmetrical
  • Size: larger than 5mm in diameter and has uneven edges or irregular borders, that may appear to gradually fade into the surrounding skin
  • Colour: can range from pink to a dark brown, the main indication the mole is Atypical is the presence of two or more colours in one mole

Atypical Moles (Dysplastic Nevus) and Skin Cancer Risk (Melanoma)

When checking a mole, it is important to be aware that normal moles can be larger than 5mm and Atypical or cancerous moles can be smaller than 5mm in diameter. When the appearance of a normal mole changes you should have it checked immediately by a medical professional.

The ABCDE method  is a useful way of remembering what to check in moles:

A: Asymmetry, asymmetrical, abnormal shape that is not oval or round
B: Border, uneven, ragged edge around the mole.
C: Colour, change in colour, a mix of different shades of colours or a mole that is noticeably darker than other moles
D: Diameter, a mole larger than 6mm in diameter
E:  Evolving, enlargement or elevation, change in size, thickness and height

Questions to ask about surgical excision of a mole or lesion

  • How long will I wait for biopsy results?
  • How long will the procedure take?
  • Will I need more than one surgery?
  • Is surgery painful and do you use a local anesthetic?
  • Will I need a skin graft or skin flap?
  • Will the scar be noticeable?
  • What risks and complications do I need to be aware of?
  • Use the ABCDE method to remember what to check in moles
  • There are 3 main types of moles
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