Moles Summary
Moles are small skin growths that may appear flat or raised and are often tan, brown, black, reddish brown, or skin colored. They are typically about the size of a pencil eraser. There are three types of moles. Monthly skin self-exams are essential in the early detection of abnormal moles and melanomas.
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Moles facts

  • Moles are common, small tan or brown spots on the skin.
  • Moles may be flat or raised.
  • Most moles are genetically predetermined before we are born.
  • Sun exposure in childhood causes an increase in the number of moles.
  • Most moles appear by age 20 or 30.
  • Moles may be mistaken for freckles and other skin growths.
  • Irregular moles may develop into skin cancer called melanoma.
  • Skin cancer may at times masquerade or hide as a regular mole.
  • Irregular or changing moles should be promptly examined by your physician or dermatologist.
  • Minor surgery is the most effective way to remove a mole.

What are moles?

Besides being a small burrowing mammal and a unit of chemical weight, the term mole (in reference to skin) is used to describe a variety of skin imperfections. Personally, I prefer the term beauty mark. Moles may be tan, brown, black, reddish brown, red, purple, or skin-colored and perfectly flat or raised. Most moles are the size of a pencil eraser (about 6 mm).

Certain moles become darker and more apparent with sun exposure and pregnancy. These typically lighten somewhat in the winter months. Moles can occur anywhere on the skin, including the scalp, ears, eyelids, lips, palms, soles, genitals, penis, and anal area.

The medical term for most moles is melanocytic nevus (plural nevi) which is composed of masses of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells of the skin. However, there are a variety of other skin lesions that are also mole-like. These include seborrheic keratoses, skin tags, dermatofibromas lentigines, and freckles. In this article, the term moles will be synonymous with melanocytic nevus.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/4/2012

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Moles - Risk Factors Question: What are your risk factors for developing moles? Briefly, describe your history and experience with moles.
Moles - Seborrheic keratoses Question: Are you prone to seborrheic keratoses? How do you have them treated?
Moles - Melanoma Question: If you have several moles, do you get checked regularly for melanoma? Please share your experience.
Moles - Skin Cancers Question: Have any of your moles been diagnosed as skin cancer? If so, what was the treatment?
Moles - Testing Question: Please discuss your experience with computerized mole-scan devices in identifying your mole types.

Cancerous Moles

Skin Changes, How to Spot Skin Cancer

Medical Author: Melissa Stoppler, M.D.
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancerin their lifetime. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, and people with fair skin and light eyes whose skin has a tendency to burn easily in the sun are most susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun's UV rays. Fortunately, most skin cancers can be detected in their early stages since skin tumors are more visible than tumors of the internal organs.

Early detection is essential for successful treatment of skin cancers. You should consult your doctor if you have any suspicious skin changes or lesions including:

  • moles that have changed in appearance, bleed, or become itchy
  • new moles or sores
  • ulcers that do not heal
  • moles that have grown or exhibit unusual changes

Avoidance of sun exposure and use of appropriate sunscreenproducts are the best ways to prevent all skin cancers.

Picture of moles