MOLES AND WARTS:
The medical term for a mole is “nevus” and the plural form is “nevi.” Moles are clusters of pigmented cells (called melanocytes) that often appear as small, dark brown spots. However, moles can come in a wide range of colors from pink to dark brown, and can occur anywhere on the body.
When do moles develop?
Most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 30 years of a person’s life. It is normal to have moles at birth and to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood. As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming raised and/or change color. Often, hairs develop on the moles. Some moles may not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over time.
- 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
The ABCDEs are important characteristics to consider when examining your moles. If a mole displays any of the signs listed below, have it checked immediately by a dermatologist.
- Asymmetry: One half of the mole does not match the other half
- Border:/strong> The border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular
- Color: The color is not the same throughout, having shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red
- Diameter: The diameter of a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil
- Evolution: The mole is changing in size, shape or color
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.