Moles, or nevi, are very common skin growths; almost everyone has at least one mole. While moles are usually not harmful, changing or irregular moles can be signs of skin cancer. It is important to understand different types of moles and the warning signs to look out for. Board-certified dermatologists like Dr. Damstetter are experts in detecting extremely subtle changes that can indicate a potential problem. By examining your moles, educating you on benign vs. harmful moles, or removing moles for biopsy Dr. Damstetter will keep you as safe as possible. Occasionally moles that are benign may be removed for cosmetic reasons.
What are Moles (Nevi)?
Moles are incredibly common skin growths that are usually benign. Some people may refer to moles as “nevi.” There are four common types of moles, which include:
- Congenital moles, or moles present at birth. These moles are a type of birthmark.
- Acquired moles, or moles that develop sometime after birth.
- Spitz nevi, which are raised, pink, and dome shaped. These moles typically develop before age 20
- Atypical moles, which are precancerous and can progress to melanoma.
What Causes Moles?
Moles are caused by clustered melanocytes, or the cells which produce pigment. These cells are usually spread evenly through the skin, but result in moles when they are grouped closely together. For some patients, this can occur naturally. For others, it may be the result of damage from UV rays and excess sun exposure over time. Moles that are the result of sun damage are more likely to become cancerous.
Identifying Benign vs. Harmful Moles
While a majority of moles pose no threat to your health, it is important to know the signs of a harmful mole so you can perform regular self-skin checks at home and see a dermatologist as needed. Not all moles that show some warning signs will be cancerous, but outcomes are far better when skin cancer can be treated early. For this reason, it is important to have any suspicious or new moles examined by your dermatologist as soon as possible.
Keep the mnemonic device “ABCDE” in mind when examining your moles at home. This stands for the following characteristics:
- Borders: irregularities or poorly-defined borders
- Color: changes in color or uneven color
- Diameter: moles larger than 6mm in diameter, or the size of a pencil eraser, may be cancerous
- Evolution: watch for changes in shape, size, or color over time. Some find it helpful to take photos and compare.
Benign moles do not require removal, but you can always choose to do so for cosmetic reasons or if a mole is irritating. Moles are removed through a simple surgery, in which Dr. Damstetter will first numb the area before cutting or shaving the mole away. This should not result in visible scarring, but Dr. Damstetter can explain what you can expect after healing.
If a mole does show signs of skin cancer, it should also be removed for a biopsy. In most cases, this involves removing the entire mole so it can be examined under a microscope to make an accurate diagnosis.
Can a dermatologist tell if a mole is cancerous?
A board-certified dermatologist has undergone extensive training in the detection and diagnosis of skin cancer. If a mole appears suspicious then a biopsy will be needed to determine if any atypical or cancerous features are present.
Can you freeze off a mole at home?
It is not advised to remove moles at home. This can lead to scarring and even prevent the detection of a skin cancer.
Why is my mole itchy?
Moles can itch like any other part of your skin. Irritation, dryness, clothing, friction and certain skin care products can lead to inflammation of a mole. If a mole is persistently itching for 2 weeks or more, a board-certified dermatologist will need to evaluate it to see if any unusual features are present. If needed, a biopsy will both treat the itchy mole and determine if any unusual features are present.
Schedule an Appointment
To learn more about moles and your mole removal options, schedule an appointment with Dr. Damstetter. Call Reserve Dermatology in Glenview, IL or contact us online.