Did you know that around 1% of people in the world are born with moles? Also moles are common in people with a lighter complexion. But should you be concerned if you have multiple moles on your body?
Read this article to know what moles are, what causes them and how to treat a mole.
What Are Moles?
Moles appear as spots on your skin that are usually darker than your normal complexion. Common moles are a few millimeters wide, and may be flat or raised. Moles can appear anywhere on your skin, singly or in groups. It is common for an adult human being to have around 15 to 40 moles on their body.
The medical term for the common mole is ‘nevus’ which comes from the Latin word ‘naevus’ meaning birthmark. You can have a mole by birth or acquire it during your lifetime. It is more common to get new moles as a child or teenager. The mole may grow in size or fade away with time. Some moles can have hair growing out from them. The average lifespan of a common mole is around 50 years.
If an adult gets a new mole like appearance or your old mole changes shape or colour, you may need to get it checked by your doctor.
What Causes Moles?
Moles appear when specialised cells called melanocytes clump together in a particular spot on your skin. Melanocytes are the pigment-producing cells of the skin which are evenly spread out to protect you from the harmful rays of the sun.
Your genes play an important role in the formation of moles. A mutation in the BRAF gene is responsible for the clustering of melanocytes which leads to the formation of moles. Factors like exposure to the sunlight or hormonal changes as seen during pregnancy, can also lead to the formation of new moles or alter the shape or colour of the pre-existing ones.
Types Of Moles
Depending on their origin and properties, moles can be of different types as discussed below.
1. Congenital Moles
As the name suggests, these moles are there on the body since birth. Most congenital moles are harmless by themselves, although they may grow in size or change color as the child grows. However, it is relevant to mention that some studies have found that individuals with bigger congenital moles have a higher risk of developing skin cancers.
2. Acquired Moles
These are ordinary moles that appear on the body after birth. People with lighter skin tones or red hair are more prone to getting these. These moles are not cancerous by themselves. But individuals with more than 50 common moles are more predisposed to getting melanomas, a malignancy due to the uncontrolled growth of the melanocytes.
3. Atypical Moles
Also known as dysplastic nevi, these moles are often irregular in shape and may appear like a melanoma. You can get atypical moles anywhere on your body, such as the head, neck, back or trunk. They are usually irregular in shape and have one colour. You should observe atypical moles closely for any change in shape or colour to ensure they do not turn into melanomas.
People with FAMMM syndrome commonly have a family history of relatives with multiple atypical moles on their body. This syndrome is also associated with a higher risk of malignant melanomas and even other malignancies such as pancreatic cancer. A mutation in the CDKN2A gene along with the BRAF mutation is present in around 40% cases.
4. Spitz Nevi
These moles are dome-shaped, and may be pink or brown in colour. They commonly appear in kids and young adults before 20 years of age. They grow rapidly upto the size of 1cm and then stay static. In some cases, a spitz nevi may break open and cause bleeding. Since the looks of a spitz nevi resemble a melanoma very closely, it is advisable to get it checked by a dermatologist to rule out any malignancies.
How Can Moles Be Treated?
Most moles are benign in nature and do not require any treatment. However, if you have pain, itchiness or bleeding from the mole, you should consult your doctor immediately. Some people may also want to remove a mole for cosmetic reasons. Your dermatologist can suggest the best treatment option for you, depending on your needs.
1. Surgical Removal
The doctor will remove a mole surgically, especially if they suspect a malignant growth or one that might lead to a skin cancer.
2. Laser Treatment
Laser treatment by a professional, can lighten the appearance of a mole. But it may take multiple sessions to get visible results and may cause discoloration of the skin in some cases.
3. Surgical Shave
This procedure is again performed by a doctor. The mole is shaved using a surgical blade and the cells are sent for biopsy to rule out any malignancies.
A small amount of liquid nitrogen is sprayed on the mole by your doctor to freeze the cells causing pigmentation. Freezing may cause blistering, which usually heals on its own.
5. Home Remedies
You can rub apple cider vinegar or garlic oil over your moles to lighten their appearance. However, the efficacy of these methods has not been scientifically proven.
Experts advise not to try to remove a mole by excision at home, as this may lead to infection, scarring or even skin cancer.
How Do I Know If A Mole Is Cancerous?
The best way to identify a mole that may turn cancerous, is to follow the ABCDE method of observation. Check for the following in your mole:
Check if the mole appears asymmetrical, i.e. two halves of the mole are not similar in shape, size or colour.
Check if the border of a normal mole is more or less smooth and rounded. If your mole has a rugged border it may be worth getting it checked.
You should check for any sudden change in colours. Common moles are a single shade of brown, while melanomas may have multiple colours, like red, white or blue.
4. Diameter or Dark Colours:
Any mole that is more than 6mm in diameter may be a reason for concern. Also melanomas are mostly dark in color, but some may be white.
Any sudden or rapid change in shape, size or color of the mole can be a tell-tale sign of the changes going on within it and warrant a consultation with your healthcare provider.
It is best to keep a watch on any old or new moles appearing on your body, and get them checked by a doctor if you suspect something unusual.
Difference Between A Skin Tag And A Mole
A skin tag is a soft outgrowth of the skin in the form of warts, soft fibromas etc. Skin tags are flesh-coloured skin growth, hanging from a stalk. They usually appear due to aging. They are mostly benign. However, if you suspect any abnormalities with your skin tag, you should consult a doctor.
Do Moles Grow Back After Being Shaved?
A mole that has been shaved or surgically removed will not return normally if all the cells of the mole have been removed. If a mole does return after removal, it indicates that some of the residual cells of the moles have been left in the skin. In rare cases, moles may return if they have cancerous cells present in them.
How Long Does It Take For A Mole To Go Away?
Some moles may fade away by themselves over a period of time but the process is very slow. If surgical removal procedures are used, the mole will disappear immediately but this process may leave a scar.
When To See A Doctor About Moles?
You must visit a doctor immediately if you notice the following symptoms:
- There is a spot on your skin that looks different from the other moles on your body. This is known as the ‘ugly duckling’ spot and may indicate the onset of melanoma.
- You have pain, irritation, oozing of blood or pus, in areas surrounding the mole.
- A sore that refuses to heal on or near the mole.
- Many new mole-like spots or bumps come up on your skin rapidly.
A mole is a dark spot on your skin that may be present by birth or acquired during life. Moles can be of various types and are usually harmless in nature by themselves. In rare cases, moles may lead to skin cancers called melanomas. You are at a higher risk if you have a family history of melanoma. Keep an eye on your moles and consult your doctor in case you notice any undesirable changes in them.
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