Moles

Everyone has moles, sometimes 40 or more. Most people think of a mole as a dark brown spot, but moles have a wide range of appearance.

Moles can appear anywhere on the skin. They are usually brown in color but can be skin colored and various sizes and shapes.

Moles probably are determined before a person is born. Most appear during the first 20 years of life, although some may not appear until later. Sun exposure increases the number of moles, and they may darken. During the teen years and pregnancy, moles also get darker and larger and new ones may appear.

Each mole has its own growth pattern. At first, moles are flat and tan like a freckle, or they can be pink, brown or black in color. Over time, they usually enlarge and some develop hairs. As the years pass, moles can change slowly, becoming more raised and lighter in color. Some will not change at all. Some moles will slowly disappear, seeming to fade away. Others will become raised far from the skin.

They may develop a small “stalk” and eventually fall off or are rubbed off.

Moles known as “dysplastic” or “atypical” moles are larger than average (usually larger than a pencil eraser) and irregular in shape. They tend to have uneven color with dark brown centers and lighter, sometimes reddish, uneven border or black dots at edge. These moles often run in families.

People with lots of dark irregular moles may have a greater chance of developing skin cancer and should be seen regularly by a dermatologist to check for any changes that might indicate skin cancer. They should also learn to do regular self-examinations, looking for changes in the color, size or shape of their moles or the appearance of new moles.

Sunscreen and protective clothing should be used to shield moles from sun exposure.

Most procedures used to remove moles take only a short time and can be performed in the office. Sometimes a mole will recur after it is removed. If a mole has been removed and begins to reappear, you should return to the dermatologist.

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