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A fact sheet about moles and how some moles may be related to melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. Includes photos of differences between moles.
Table of contents

Many physicians examine such moles with a dermoscope, a handheld magnifying device that allows visualization of internal skin structures and colors not seen by the naked eye. The doctor may also opt to remove the entire mole or a portion of it for examination in a lab.

Types of skin moles

Certain factors can be clear warning signs that an atypical mole is actually a melanoma or in danger of becoming a melanoma. These include itching, pain, elevation, bleeding, crusting, oozing, swelling, persisting open sores, bluish-black color and other features that may go right up to the edges of the mole. If you or a loved one has any of these warning signs, consult a dermatologist or another physician with experience in skin disorders. Asymmetry: Unlike common moles, atypical moles are often asymmetrical: A line drawn through the middle would not create matching halves.

Color: Common moles are most often uniformly tan, brown or flesh-colored, but atypical moles have varied, irregular color with subtle, haphazard areas of tan, brown, dark brown, red, blue or black. Evolution: Enlargement of or any other notable change in a previously stable mole, or the appearance of a new mole after age 40, should raise suspicion. Varying Appearance: Atypical moles can be greatly varied, often looking different from one another.

Atypical mole with asymmetry, border irregularity and multiple shades of brown.

Moles: Types, causes, treatment, and diagnosis

New moles commonly appear at times when your hormone levels change, such as during pregnancy. Mole color ranges from pink to dark brown or black. They can be anywhere on your body, alone or in groups. Almost all moles are benign noncancerous. But new moles in an adult are more likely to become cancerous than old moles. There are many types of moles, categorized by when they appear, what they look like, and their risk of becoming cancerous. These moles are called birthmarks and vary widely in size, shape, and color.

About 0. Some birthmarks may be treated for cosmetic reasons when the child is older, for example, age 10 to 12 and better able to tolerate local anesthetic. Treatment options include:.

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Larger congenital moles have a greater risk of becoming malignant in adulthood 4 to 6 percent lifetime risk. Changes in growth, color, shape, or pain of a birthmark should be evaluated by a doctor. They can appear anywhere on your skin. People with fair skin can normally have between 10 and 40 of these moles.

If you have darker skin or dark hair, your moles may be darker than those of people with fairer skin. Atypical moles can appear anywhere on your body. Atypical moles are often on the trunk, but you can also get them on your neck, head, or scalp. They rarely appear on the face.

Explore Everyday Health

Benign atypical moles may have some of the same characteristics as melanoma a type of skin cancer. Atypical moles have the potential to become cancerous. If members of your family have a lot of atypical moles, you may have familial atypical multiple mole melanoma FAMMM syndrome. Your risk of melanoma is New moles may be benign or they may be cancerous. Genetic mutations are likely involved.

A research study reported that genetic mutations of the BRAF gene were present in 78 percent of benign acquired moles.

Giant mole

BRAF mutations are known to be involved in melanoma. The interaction of ultraviolet light UV , both natural and artificial, with DNA is known to cause genetic damage that can lead to the development of melanoma and other skin cancers. The sun exposure can occur during childhood or young adulthood and only much later result in skin cancer. New moles are more likely to become cancerous.

Should I worry about a mole?

A review of case studies found that When an old mole changes, or when a new mole appears in adulthood, you should see a doctor to check it out. Melanoma is the deadliest skin cancer, but new moles or spots may also be basal cell or squamous cell cancers. These usually appear in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as your face, head, and neck. Checking your skin regularly can help you spot mole changes. More than half of skin cancers occur on parts of your body that you can easily see. The most common body sites for melanoma in women are the arms and legs. Non-Caucasians have a lower risk for melanoma in general.

But the melanoma locations are different for people of color.

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  • Typical sites for melanoma among non-Caucasians are:. Note that self-checks can often miss changes in moles, according to a study of people at high risk for melanoma. Moles that appear in adulthood should always be checked by a doctor.

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