At some point in their lives, most people will have a skin mole or growth that causes them concern. But how do you know if it's just a harmless mole or if it's something that needs to be removed? You may be worried about skin cancer or you might simply want to eliminate the risk of something turning into cancer down the road. Here's what you need to know.
Characteristics of a Mole
Skin moles are growths that can either be flesh-colored or light to dark brown. Most people become concerned about them as they get older because they often resemble melanoma—a form of cancer that can spread. But moles in and of themselves have distinct characteristics that make them differ from melanomas.
Most moles are typically flat, and it's not uncommon for them to change in appearance over time. They might enlarge or shrink, become firmer or softer, and their color may darken or lighten. Most people have several moles while some have a lot, and they might increase in number during adolescence.
How to Know if it Should Come Off
Normal moles do not need to come off just because you're concerned they might turn into melanoma skin cancer. The chance of this happening is very rare. But there are situations that justify the removal of a mole.
If your mole is itching so much that it's uncomfortable or you're scratching it to the point of bleeding, your doctor may suggest removing it for the sake of comfort. Also, moles that have the following characteristics, known as the ABCDEs of skin cancer, will need to be more deeply examined and possibly removed:
Asymmetry—the mole has an asymmetric appearance and does not look uniform.
Borders—the edges of the mole appear irregular (i.e. one side is round, the other is elongated).
Color—the mole contains areas of varying colors or it appears much darker than other moles.
Diameter—moles that are wider than 6mm.
Evolution—moles that appear or change in patients over the age of 30.
Without the above issues, there isn't any reason to be concerned unless you have more than 50 moles. These patients are at a greater risk of developing melanoma, so your doctor may recommend frequent checks and show you how to keep an eye out for any concerning changes.
Cosmetic Issues with Moles
Some patients want to have moles removed that pose cosmetic problems. Maybe they appear on the face or are accompanied by embarrassing hair growth, causing the patient social anxiety. They also might be in an area where they're likely to get snagged by clothing or cut by a razor.
Periods of hormonal changes often affect mole growth, so moles often appear or change in size, making them more noticeable, during puberty, pregnancy, and menopause. If you notice changes during this time and you wish to have your moles removed for any cosmetic reason, your doctor should be able to do this without any trouble.
Growths That Look Like Moles
You might have some of the following benign growths that resemble moles or even freckles that cause you concern.
- Dermatofibromas are small bumps that often appear on the legs. They are usually red or brown and can be removed if they're extremely itchy.
- Seborrheic keratosis can resemble a mole because it may be round or oval in shape with a brown, black, or flesh-colored tint. The key difference between seborrheic keratosis and a mole is that the former has more of a wart-like appearance with a waxy covering. Some people say they almost look like a drop of brown wax.
- Skin tags are small flesh-colored flaps of skin that appear in creases such as the groin, armpits, and neck.
If you have any growths or bumps on the skin that concern you, schedule an exam with a dermatologist, such as Center Of Dermatology PC/Herschel E Stoller MD.