Moles, or by its medical term nevi, are small, dark, brown spots that grow on the skin. They occur because of clusters of pigmented cells. They generally occur among children and adolescents. It is a very common condition. Usually, people have 10 to 45 moles on their skin that appear before the age of 40. Some moles may fade with age. Generally, they are harmless. However, they can become cancerous sometimes, that is why monitoring these and other kind of skin patches is important in order to detect and treat possible skin cancer as promptly as possible.
Generally, a mole is a small brown spot on the skin. However, they can differ widely in colour, shape and size.
- Colour-moles can be: brown, tan, black, red, pink or blue
- Texture-they can be smooth, flat, raised, wrinkled or have hair growing from them
- Shape-variants of oval to round shape
- Size-moles are typically around 6 mm in diameter, but seldom, when they resent at birth, they can be very big covering wide areas of the face, torso or limb
Moles can appear anywhere on the body, even places like under the nails and between fingers or toes. They usually appear until the age of 40. They can change in form over time, or some may fade with aging. It is not unusual some moles to become larger, darker or numerous during puberty or pregnancy due to hormonal change.
There is an ABCDE guide that can help a person to indicate whether a mole spot may be melanoma. The guide is a s follows:
- A stands for asymmetrical shape (one half doesn’t match the other half)
- B is for border (moles with irregular, uneven or edgy border)
- C stands for colour (spots that changed colour, have uneven colour or many colours)
- D is for diameter (new growth larger than 6 mm)
- E stands for evolving (moles that changed size, shape, colour, height, especially if part of the mole turned black)
Malignant moles vary a lot in their appearance. Some may have only one or two of the above listed features, yet others can have all of the features.
It is important to visit a doctor, especially if a mole is painful, itches, bleeds or oozes, shows any of the features in the ABCDE guide listed above, grows back after its removal, or appears at age over 30.
The reason that causes moles to occur are cells in the skin which grow in clusters. The cells are called melanocytes. They are distributed throughout the skin and they produce the natural pigment melanin that provides the skin colour.
The highest complication of moles is that they can develop into melanoma. Factors that increase the risk for some people to develop melanoma are:
- Congenital nevi-large moles from birth (they rarely become cancerous and not before puberty)
- Atypical nevi-unusual moles that are bigger, with irregular shape (dark brown centers and lighter, uneven border; usually hereditary)
- Many moles-having more than 50 ordinary moles
- Family history of melanoma
Treatment is normally unnecessary. However, if the mole looks suspicious, doctor may take a sample tissue for testing in order to determine if the mole is cancerous or not.
If the mole is cancerous a surgery to remove it is usually performed. The removal surgery doesn’t last long, but it can leave scaring. The procedures can be: surgical excision or surgical shave. If the mole has grown back after the removal it is important to see the doctor as soon as possible.
Some cosmetic methods that can help conceal the moles are makeup or clipping or plucking a hair that grows from the mole.
Some of the following self-measures can help the development of moles to be limited or to result in melanoma:
- Be aware of the location, number and pattern of the moles and watch for changes
- Protect the skin by:
-avoiding overexposure to sun especially when UV rays are strongest
-avoiding tanning beds
-always using sunscreen
-covering up with hats, sunglasses, long-sleeved protective clothing