Most people have a few — or even dozens — of moles. Even newborns may have a mole or two. But moles become more common as you age.
Although most moles are benign and won’t develop into cancer, some atypical moles do. Troubling changes in existing moles or the presence of a new mole could even be a sign of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Luckily, skin cancers -- including melanoma -- are usually curable if caught early enough.
How do you recognize an atypical mole so that you can get it diagnosed and treated right away? Timothy Scott Beck, MD, and our team offer skin cancer screening and mole evaluation as part of our dermatology services at Life Point Medical. Here, Dr. Beck gives a few pointers about how to spot an atypical mole and what to expect during mole removal.
Moles are hyperpigmented, raised lesions that have a distinct appearance. However, they don’t all look alike. You may even have a range of moles on your own skin that differ in size, shape, and color.
Some moles are flat and smooth with a crisp margin. Others are raised, rough spots with a poorly defined border. Still others have a different combination of traits — flat moles can have irregular edges, for example, just as raised moles can be well-defined.
The majority of moles are brown or tan and are darker than the rest of your skin. However, they can also be black, pink, blue, or skin-toned (colorless).
A healthy mole has the following four distinct characteristics:
Moles can appear anywhere on your body, including your scalp, between fingers and toes, and even under your nails. It isn’t unusual for moles to grow hair, especially when they appear on your arms or legs. Healthy moles may stay the same, but change very slowly, or even fade away completely over a period of time.
Even large, prominent moles that mar your appearance aren’t necessarily abnormal. You wouldn’t necessarily have to remove such a mole unless you were troubled by the way it looks. However, moles can become unhealthy, if they appear quickly, change rapidly, bleed, or become itchy, painful, or tender to the touch.
Examine your body every month, including areas you need a mirror to view and areas that aren’t exposed to sunlight, and check for new or changing moles. Knowing about your moles, including their appearance and their location on your body, is the first step in being able to identify any worrisome changes, including new, fast-growing moles. Abnormal moles are a hallmark of melanoma, a fast-growing form of skin cancer that can be deadly when it’s allowed to progress, but easily treated when it’s spotted early.
Because melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, often appears as a fast-changing or unusual-looking mole, it’s helpful to have a set of criteria when you assess your moles each month. The ABCDEs of atypical moles that could be melanoma are:
In addition to your monthly self exams, we recommend skin-cancer screenings during your annual visits to Life Point Medical. We assess any worrisome moles. We also remove or biopsy moles that are potentially abnormal. You may also wish to have a mole removed for aesthetic reasons.
We immediately remove questionable moles so that we can send them to a lab to be evaluated. During this quick, in-office procedure, we use a local anesthetic to numb the treatment area. The surgical technique that is most appropriate for removal is determined by the type, location, and size of your mole:
Shave excision implements the use of a very thin blade to detach atypical moles at or slightly below skin level. We then cauterize or close the spot with a sealing liquid. Shave excision is mainly used for small, raised moles,
Large-diameter moles and moles that extend into deeper layers of skin must be cut out with a scalpel. If cancer is a concern, Dr. Beck may cautiously remove a couple of millimeters of surrounding tissue, too. We typically close the area with dissolving stitches.
If you have moles, contact us for a skin-cancer screening or mole removal at Life Point Medical today. Just call our friendly staff to set up an appointment at our Clayton, George, office, or use our online outreach form.