MOLES AND WARTS:
The medical term for a mole is nevus ("nee-vus") and its plural form is nevi ("neev-eye"). Moles are clusters of specialized skin cells (called melanocytes) that make pigment (melanin) and often appear as small, dark brown spots. Interestingly, moles can be a variety of colors ranging from pink to dark brown or even black, and can occur on any part of the body.
When do moles develop?
We can be born with moles on our skin, although usually they make their appearance during the first years of childhood and often continue to appear until we are between 20 and 30 years of age. By adulthood, some people have as many as 40 moles altogether. Moles may change slowly over time, sometimes becoming a different color, developing hairs, or becoming more raised in texture. Sometimes they disappear altogether. Other moles may remain unchanged throughout a lifetime.
- May range in color from pink to blue or dark brown
- Appear in early childhood and throughout adulthood
- Most are harmless
- Can become cancerous; important to notice changing features
- Evaluation by a dermatologist at least annually for complete skin exam
- Prevent moles by avoiding UV sources: sunlight, tanning booths, sunlamps
Tips for checking moles
It is always a good idea to keep an eye on your moles so that you can take note of any changes when they start to occur. Dermatologists recommend that patients use a handy ABCDE checklist in order to keep track of the most significant characteristics of their moles. If you notice any of the changes described in the list below, please contact you dermatologist for further examination.
- Asymmetry: Your mole has two distinct halves which do not match each other.
- Border: Irregular, ragged or blurred edges to your mole
- Color: Your mole is more than one color – perhaps brown, red, black, white or even blue in different parts.
- Diameter: Your mole has a diameter that is bigger than an end of pencil eraser.
- Evolution: Your mole has changed in color, size or shape.
Most moles are harmless, but in rare cases, moles may become cancerous. It is important to monitor moles and notice if there is change in size, shape and/or color. Close, regular observation of moles is an important step in detecting skin cancer, especially malignant melanoma. Not all melanomas develop from pre-existing moles, but many begin in or near a mole or other dark spot on the skin. Noticing change in a mole is often the first obvious sign of skin cancer. Seek professional evaluation by a board certified dermatologist to determine if further treatment is necessary.
When it is determined by a dermatologist that a mole is suspicious for being a skin cancer, it may be biopsied (in which a sample is removed for microscopic evaluation) or completely removed (and then also submitted for microscopic testing). This choice typically depends on the size of the mole, since larger moles are usually biopsied and then removed completely if found to be abnormal. Highly suspicious moles, regardless of size, and smaller moles may be removed completely initially and submitted for testing.
Most people have a few moles, but sunlight can induce greater numbers of moles to develop. Protection of the skin from sunlight and other UV sources such as sunlamps and tanning beds is effective in preventing moles. Wearing protective clothing, hats and sunscreen contribute to the prevention of new moles from forming.
For individuals with a family history of melanoma or atypical (also called dysplastic) moles, a complete skin examination by a dermatologist is recommended at least every six months. Annual or yearly total body skin examination is recommended for all adults, regardless of family or personal history of skin cancer.