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Moles and Mole Removal

Moles are growths on the skin that are often brown or black, and can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups. Moles can change slowly, become raised, change in color, or develop hairs.

Moles are a collection of cells in the skin, called melanocytes, growing in a cluster and concentrated in one spot. These cells produce and contain the pigment melanin (which is responsible primarily for the color of our skin). Moles often darken after exposure to the sun, during teen years and during pregnancy.

Moles can be rough, flat, raised, and have hair coming out of them. They are generally round or oval, and have a smooth edge but they can also change in appearance and in numbers. The majority of moles appear during the first 20 to 30 years of a person's life. Dark skinned people generally have fewer moles than those with fair skin. People brought up in sunny places tend to have more moles than others with the same type of skin who were raised in areas with comparatively little sun exposure.

The vast majority of moles are harmless. However, in some cases moles can develop into an aggressive type of skin cancer… malignant melanoma. If you have moles, check them regularly for changes in texture and/or appearance.

What to Watch For

The moles that are of medical concern are those which look different than other existing moles or those that are changing. If you notice changes in a mole's color, height, size or shape, you should have a dermatologist evaluate it. Also, if you have moles that bleed, ooze, itch, appear scaly or become tender or painful, have your moles checked by a medical provider experienced in skin conditions.

Examine your skin or ask someone to help you, and pay special attention to areas of your skin exposed to the sun, including your hands, arms, chest, neck, face and ears.

The A, B, C's of questionable moles

  • • Asymmetry — half of the mole does not match the other half
  • • Border — edges or borders of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular
  • • Color — is not the same throughout and/or has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red
  • • Diameter — is larger than the eraser on a pencil
  • • Evolving — changing in size, shape, or color

If your dermatologist believes a mole needs to be evaluated further a small tissue sample will be taken of the mole. A biopsy, examining thin sections of the tissue under a microscope, will be performed, and/ or the mole may be removed in its entirety. If the mole is found to be cancerous, then the dermatologist will remove the entire mole and check the margins around it to make sure it's clear, then stitch or suture the wound closed.