If you’re an average woman or man, you probably have 10-40 moles scattered about your face and body. Most moles are benign (i.e., noncancerous) and nothing to worry about. However, some moles change from benign to abnormal and may proceed to skin cancer. New moles may also be a concern.
Our expert dermatologists at Specialists in Dermatology recommend that you become familiar with your skin and all its moles. We advise surveying your moles every month and getting a skin cancer screening once a year.
What should you look for when you look at your moles? Read on to find out more about when a mole is normal and when it’s a concern.
Normal moles don’t do much
Those clusters of highly colored melanocytes (i.e., pigment cells) known as moles that most adults have don’t do much when they’re normal and benign. Normal moles are either common nevi (small and distinct) or congenital nevi (present from birth).
Some of your longest-lasting normal moles, particularly congenital nevi, may grow over time. But they should grow very slowly.
As you age, some of your normal moles may also sprout a hair or two, change shape slightly, or get lighter in color. Other than that, a normal mole is pretty boring. They tend to be:
- Uniform (i.e., a single color, such as tan, brown, or black)
- Symmetrical (i.e., both halves look alike)
- Small (i.e., smaller than a pencil eraser)
- Inactive (i.e., they don’t suddenly change shape, color, or size)
Most normal moles never become cancerous; however, some do, particularly congenital nevi. You’re more likely to develop skin cancer if you have an abundance of moles (i.e., far more than 40).
Change is a concern
A normal mole can develop into an abnormal mole. Abnormal moles are more dynamic than normal moles and therefore less “boring.” A normal mole becomes an abnormal mole if it changes appearance quickly.
New moles that appear after you’re 30 years old could also be a concern. Be sure to let us know if you notice a new mole.
Some moles change into a deadly type of skin cancer known as melanoma. You can use the ABCDE mnemonic to remember when to get a changing mole evaluated. Contact us if you notice features such as:
- Asymmetry — your moles’ halves don’t match up
- Borders look ragged, instead of defined
- Color varies across the mole instead of being uniform
- Diameter grows larger than a pencil eraser or grows quickly
- Evolving — cancerous moles aren’t boring; they evolve
Other changes that require immediate medical evaluation include moles that:
- Are painful
Don’t worry that you’re over-reacting when it comes to your moles. Finding a cancerous mole in its early stages usually means that it can be quickly cured with a specialized procedure called Mohs surgery.
Large, irregular moles are a concern
Dysplastic moles are those that are large and irregularly shaped or colored. Dysplastic moles may be inherited. If you have one dysplastic mole, you probably have a great number of other moles, perhaps even more than 100.
If you have dysplastic moles or more than the normal number of moles, you’re at increased risk for skin cancer. Contact us to find out how often you should be screened so that any worrisome changes can be addressed immediately.
We may also recommend surgery to remove large dysplastic moles. Dysplastic moles are those that are most likely to develop into malignant melanoma.
If you’re concerned about your moles, or if it’s time for your annual skin cancer screening, contact us at Specialists in Dermatology in Houston, Texas, or The Woodlands, Texas, today. Phone the office nearest you, or use our online form.