Moles

Moles are growths on the skin.

Moles are growths on the skin. They happen when pigment cells in the skin, called melanocytes, grow in clusters. Moles are very common. Most people have between 10 and 40 moles. A person may develop new moles from time to time, usually until about age 40. In older people, they tend to fade away.

Moles are usually pink, tan or brown. They can be flat or raised. They are usually round or oval and no larger than a pencil eraser.

About one out of every ten people has at least one unusual (or atypical) mole that looks different from an ordinary mole. They are called dysplastic nevi. They may be more likely than ordinary moles to develop into melanoma, a type of skin cancer. You should have a health care professional check your moles if they look unusual, grow larger, change in color or outline, or in any other way.

 

People should tell their doctor if they find a new mole or a change in an existing mole. A family doctor may refer people with an unusual mole or other concerns about their skin to a dermatologist. Also, some plastic surgeons, general surgeons, internists, cancer specialists, and family doctors have special training in moles and melanoma.

Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma may also appear as a new colored area on the skin.

The "ABCDE" rule describes the features of early melanoma:

  • Asymmetry. The shape of one half does not match the other half.
  • Border that is irregular. The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
  • Color that is uneven. Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.
  • Diameter. There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than 6 millimeters wide (about 1/4 inch wide).
  • Evolving. The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.

Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look. Many show all of the ABCDE features. However, some may show only one or two of the ABCDE features.