If you have a lot of moles on your body, you may have heard that you are at a greater risk of skin cancer. You have probably worried a lot about your moles and the possibility of getting melanoma, or skin cancer, and you might wonder whether or not you really have something to worry about. Unfortunately, having certain types of moles or a large number of moles on your body can put you at an increased risk of melanoma, but you shouldn’t worry about every mole. Instead, you should assess your moles before you start worrying about developing skin cancer. If you are concerned that you might be at a risk for skin cancer, however, you should consider consulting a physician to have yourself checked out and to talk about risk factors and ways to prevent skin cancer.
Types of Moles
All moles are not created equally. It is completely normal to have moles on your body if you are between the age of ten and 40, but some moles should be taken more seriously than others. Therefore, you should assess the types of moles that you have before worrying if you are at an increased risk of skin cancer.
Common moles are round-shaped moles that appear on your body. Some people are born with noticeable moles; others are born with small moles that aren’t noticeable when they are babies but that are more apparent as they grow. Sometimes, moles develop with age; these moles typically appear on areas of your body that are or have been exposed to the sun. These moles should be round or oval-shaped, and they should be smooth but should have distinct edges and might be dome-shaped. These moles come in brown, pink and tan, and individuals with darker hair typically have darker moles than those who have blonde or another lightly colored shade of hair. Although common moles do sometimes turn into melanoma, they aren’t as dangerous or put you at as much of a risk as abnormal moles. You should watch out for your common moles, however. If you notice a color change or an uneven change in size as an adult, you should consult a doctor immediately. Bleeding or oozing, a dry or scaly surface, an itchy feeling on the mole or a hard or lumpy feeling should also be taken seriously.
An abnormal mole, which is also known as a dysplastic nevus or atypical mole, is a more likely sign of skin cancer risk than a common mole, but you should know that abnormal moles typically do even out over time and typically do not turn into skin cancer. If you are wondering whether or not you have an abnormal mole, you should examine the mole. If it is much larger than a common mole, is formed from a mixture of colors, has an irregular edge or feels scaly or pebbly, it is probably a dysplastic nevus. By consulting a doctor, you can find out more about your skin cancer risk and check to make sure that your abnormal mole is not dangerous.
Number of Moles
Along with paying attention to the type of moles that you have, it is also important for you to look at the number of moles that you have on your body. Although common moles are pretty normal and shouldn’t always be a cause for concern, having more than 50 common moles on your body puts you at a drastically increased risk of skin cancer. If you have a lot of moles on your body, regardless of the type of moles that they are, yo ushould consult your physician.
Other Risk Factors
Although having certain types of moles or an abnormal and excessive amount of moles can put you at risk for skin cancer, there are other risk factors that you should look out for in order to protect yourself. For instance, you should take a look at your skin tone; unfortunately, very pale skin can put you at an increased risk for skin cancer. Even if your skin isn’t very pale, you should also use caution in the sun if you are prone to being sunburned or if you live in an exceptionally sunny climate. Exposure to certain unnatural substances, such as arsenic, can put you at a risk for skin cancer, and exposure to radiation can be risky as well. If you have ever had skin cancer in the past, you should keep in mind that you are more prone to developing it again, and a family history of skin cancer isn’t a good sign either. It is also important for you to take care of yourself if you have a weakened immune system because it puts you at an increased risk of developing skin cancer as well.
More information: https://www.yalemedicine.org/
Oct 19, 2015 1:00 AM
Author: Elizabeth Renda
There may be a new way to identify an increased risk of skin cancer and all it takes is rolling up your sleeve.
In a new study from St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, researchers say having more than 10 moles on your right arm could indicate an increased risk for skin cancer. The research included counting the total number of moles on a person and dividing the totals between 17 segments of the body. They found that the right arm was the best indicator of whether someone is considered a “moley” person.
“Having a lot of moles is a sign of having a greater probability of skin cancer,” said Kristina Callis-Duffin, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of Utah. “An abundance of moles means your skin cells are particularly active, which can increase the risk of cells becoming cancerous.”
The hope is for this to provide a “do it yourself” option for assessing your skin cancer risk. Having at least 11 moles on the arm increases the likelihood that an individual has more than a hundred moles on their body—a number that raises the risk of melanoma up to ten percent.
“Nothing can replace a full skin check from a dermatologist,” Callis-Duffin explained. “While your arms may be a basic indicator of your skin cancer potential, melanoma can develop anywhere and it’s important to keep track of all recent skin changes and suspicious moles.”
Moles or no moles, everyone should take steps to reduce their risk of melanoma. “Everyone should be careful when it comes to sun exposure,” says Callis-Duffin. “Sun damage is cumulative over time. The more sunburns you suffer, the greater your risk for melanoma.”
When in the sun be sure to wear sunscreen, wear sunglasses, and clothing that will protect you from the sun’s rays. “The best defense is a good offense,” says Callis-Duffin.
- What Should You Do When You Find a New Mole?
- Keeping track of your newfound mole should be a priority.
- Call for an Appointment(800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273)
- Moles: What to Look For, When to Worry
- When to See Your Doctor About a Mole
- Removing a Skin Mole
- Melanoma that looks like a freckle
- What’s a freckle?
- When a freckle is something to worry about
- What Causes Moles to Suddenly Appear
- I Have a New Mole. What Should I Do Next?
- If you suddenly develop a new mole, is it cause for concern? Read on to find out.
- 5 signs your child’s mole needs to be checked
- Checking moles in childhood can create a healthy, lifelong habit
- Moles and the Different Types of Moles
- Some People Are More Prone to Moles than Others
- Normal Moles Verses Cancerous Moles
- What are the other risk factors of moles?
- Everything you need to know about growing new moles after 30
What Should You Do When You Find a New Mole?
Keeping track of your newfound mole should be a priority.
Moles are totally normal. Most adults have at least a few, and the lighter your skin tone, the more moles you’re likely to have.
In most cases, moles are nothing to worry about, especially if you’ve had them since childhood or adolescence, which is when moles first tend to appear. They can darken or lighten, and neither occurrence is necessarily a sign of melanoma.
Developing a new mole as an adult, though, is a different story. One recent review of melanoma literature found that 71% of melanoma cases stemmed from new moles (as opposed to existing ones).
Call for an Appointment
(800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273)
Consider your own self-awareness the first line of defense: When a new mole does appear, it should remain the same size, shape and color. If it doesn’t, then it warrants a visit to your dermatologist.
Your dermatologist won’t necessarily remove or biopsy it, but they can take a photo or note its size and location in order to track it over time.
“Let’s say there’s a person with a mole that’s not quite bad enough to warrant a biopsy, and maybe it hasn’t changed over time,” says David Eric Sawcer, MD, who is a clinical associate professor of dermatology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and a dermatologist at Keck Medicine of USC. “If there’s a picture in the chart, it’s very easy to note when any change occurs.”
These photographs can also help dermatologists like Sawcer keep track of an area with a lot of moles. “It’s like a star map. You can easily tell if you’ve picked up a new one or see if one has changed over time,” he explains. “Without the photographs, it can be very difficult to tell this in people who have lots of moles.”
Even if you don’t notice a new mole or worrisome change, you should still have an annual skin check with your dermatologist. They can find overlooked spots and check areas that you may have missed or can’t easily see, particularly if they have reference photos in hand.
And, new or not, if your mole has any of the ABCDEs — that is, asymmetry, irregular border (particularly those that are ragged, notched or blurred), varied color (different shades of brown or patchy), large diameter (bigger than 6 mm, about the size of a pencil eraser) or it’s evolving — schedule an appointment. These are the most common signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. It’s worth catching, and addressing, early.
A new mole doesn’t have to be immediate cause for concern. As long as you know what to look for and when to see your dermatologist, there’s no need to worry.
by Deanna Pai
If you’re in Southern California and are concerned about your skin, make an appointment with one of our expert dermatologists. To schedule an appointment, call (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit dermatology.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment.
Freckle: A flat circular spot on the skin about the size of the head of a nail that develops after repeated exposure to sunlight, particularly in someone of fair complexion. Freckles may be yellow, tan, light-brown, brown, or black. They are always darker than the skin around them since they are due to deposits of the dark melanin, a dark pigment.
There are two basic types of freckles — ephelides and lentigines. Ephelides (singular: ephelis) are flat light-brown spots that typically appear during the sunny months and fade in the winter. Lentigines (singular: lentigo) are small tan, brown, or black spots which tend to be darker than an ephelis-type freckle and which do not fade in the winter.
The sun is not the only factor that induces freckles. Heredity also influences freckling, as witnessed by the striking similarity in the total number of freckles on identical twins. Such similarities are considerably less marked in fraternal twins. A gene for freckles has been mapped to chromosome 4q32-q34.
Freckles are harmless. They may sometimes be confused with more serious skin problems. Conversely, more serious problems such as skin cancer may at times be passed over as a mere freckle. Anyone who has one or more pigmented spots of which they are not certain should be seen by a dermatologist. Treatments are available to lighten or eliminate those freckles whose appearance bothers their owners.
See also: Ephelis; Lentigo; LEOPARD syndrome.
Moles: What to Look For, When to Worry
- Congenital moles. When a mole is present at birth, it is called a congenital mole, or congenital nevus. About 1 percent of people have congenital moles, and these moles may be at increased risk of turning into skin cancer.
- Acquired moles. Acquired moles account for most moles and usually develop during childhood or early adulthood. These moles are usually smaller than a quarter inch, and are thought to be due to excessive sun exposure. Most acquired moles will not develop into skin cancer.
- Atypical moles. Atypical moles (also known as dysplastic nevi) are larger than a pencil eraser and shaped irregularly. These moles are usually uneven in color, with a dark brown center. The borders of atypical moles may be irregular, with a lighter or reddish color, and unevenness or black dots around the edge. Atypical moles tend to run in families and they may be at increased risk of developing into skin cancer.
When to See Your Doctor About a Mole
It’s important to consult your doctor or a dermatologist about a suspicious skin mole since it may be an early sign of malignant melanoma, which is a life-threatening form of skin cancer.
Examine your skin regularly, looking for any new skin moles as well as changes in the moles you already have. If you have a family history of atypical moles or skin cancer, or a large number of moles or freckles, your primary doctor may suggest that you see a dermatologist for regular skin evaluations.
When you examine your moles, remember the ABCDEs of melanoma. If you notice any of the following, consult your doctor or dermatologist:
- A for asymmetry: A mole in which one half of the mole does not look like the other
- B for irregular border: A mole with a scalloped or poorly defined border
- C for varied color: A mole that consists of multiple shades of black, brown, white, red, and/or blue
- D for large diameter: A mole that has a diameter larger than that of a pencil eraser
- E for evolving: A mole that’s size, shape, or color changes over time
- New moles: A mole that develops, especially if it appears after age 20
- Bothersome moles: A mole that bleeds, itches, or is painful
Removing a Skin Mole
Most moles are harmless and do not need to be removed. But if your dermatologist thinks your mole looks suspicious, or if you would like to have the mole removed for cosmetic reasons, it can usually be done quite easily.
To remove a mole, your dermatologist will numb the area around your mole, and then shave or cut it off. After removing the mole, your dermatologist may need to close the area with one or a few stitches. The tissue will be sent to a laboratory to confirm that it is not cancerous.
Most moles are harmless, but getting any suspicious ones checked out quickly will enable you to detect skin cancer in its earliest stages, when it’s most treatable.
Melanoma that looks like a freckle
What’s a freckle?
A freckle is a small brown spot that forms on the skin as a result of genetics and UV exposure. These are benign spots that are more common in fair-skinned individuals. They require no treatment but they are usually a sign that you should be more diligent about wearing sunscreen and spend more time away from the sun. People who freckle easily are more likely to develop skin cancer.
Example pictures of melanoma
When a freckle is something to worry about
So how can you tell when a freckle is something more than just a freckle? Some freckles can look normal but can potentially be a melanoma freckle. Most melanomas usually share a few tell-tale warning signs.
What is Skin Cancer?
Inspect your freckles and moles for the following indicators of melanoma, also known as the ABCDE melanoma self-check method:
A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles and freckles are usually symmetrical.
B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous lesions have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign freckles or moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are typically greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
E – Evolution
The evolution of your mole or freckle is the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a freckle has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
It’s important to note that not all melanomas will follow the ABCDE method. Nodular melanoma will grow vertically into the skin and has its own characteristics to be aware of and there are also some other types of melanoma that exhibit atypical symptoms. While most freckles are harmless, be sure to check your body from head-to-toe every month to notice any changes or new growths that have occurred. At the first sign of suspicion, have your freckle, blemish or mole checked out by your doctor or dermatologist to be sure it’s okay.
What does a normal mole look like?
What Causes Moles to Suddenly Appear
There are many types of moles, categorized by when they appear, what they look like, and their risk of becoming cancerous.
These moles are called birthmarks and vary widely in size, shape, and color. About 0.2 to 2.1 percent of infants are born with a congenital mole.
Some birthmarks may be treated for cosmetic reasons when the child is older, for example, age 10 to 12 and better able to tolerate local anesthetic. Treatment options include:
- skin resurfacing (dermabrasion)
- skin shaving (excision) of top skin layers
- chemical peel for lightening
- laser ablation for lightening
Larger congenital moles have a greater risk of becoming malignant in adulthood (4 to 6 percent lifetime risk). Changes in growth, color, shape, or pain of a birthmark should be evaluated by a doctor.
Acquired moles (also called common moles)
Acquired moles are those that appear on your skin after you’re born. They’re also known as common moles. They can appear anywhere on your skin.
People with fair skin can normally have between 10 and 40 of these moles.
Common moles are usually:
- round or oval
- flat or slightly raised or sometimes dome-shaped
- smooth or rough
- one color (tan, brown, black, red, pink, blue, or skin-colored)
- small (1/4 inch or less; the size of a pencil eraser)
- may have hairs
If you have darker skin or dark hair, your moles may be darker than those of people with fairer skin.
If you have more than 50 common moles, you’re at a higher risk for skin cancer. But it’s rare for a common mole to become cancerous.
Atypical moles (also called dysplastic nevi)
Atypical moles can appear anywhere on your body. Atypical moles are often on the trunk, but you can also get them on your neck, head, or scalp. They rarely appear on the face.
Benign atypical moles may have some of the same characteristics as melanoma (a type of skin cancer). So, it’s important to have regular skin checks and to monitor any changes in your moles.
Atypical moles have the potential to become cancerous. But it’s estimated that only 1 in 10,000 atypical moles turn into cancer.
Because of their appearance, atypical moles have been characterized as the “ugly ducklings” of moles.
In general, atypical moles are:
- irregular in shape with uneven borders
- varied in color: mixes of tan, brown, red, and pink
- pebbled in texture
- larger than a pencil eraser; 6 millimeters or more
- more common in fair-skinned people
- more common in people who have high sun exposure
You have a higher risk of getting melanoma if you have:
- four or more atypical moles
- a blood relative who had melanoma
- previously had melanoma
If members of your family have a lot of atypical moles, you may have familial atypical multiple mole melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome. Your risk of melanoma is 17.3 times higher that people who don’t have FAMMM syndrome.
I Have a New Mole. What Should I Do Next?
If you suddenly develop a new mole, is it cause for concern? Read on to find out.
Nearly every person has a least one mole, and if you’re fairer-skinned, it’s common to have anywhere from 10 to 20. Although not all moles are normal — and some can turn into skin cancer — there is no need to panic if you’ve found a new mole. Here are a few recommendations to follow if you’re concerned about a newly discovered mole.
The first thing to do is look at a picture of yourself from within the past year. Double check that it’s indeed a new mole and not one that you just noticed. You could also ask a partner or friend if they remember seeing the mole before, though memories will never be as reliable as photographic evidence.
If you confirm that the mole is indeed new, go ahead and make an appointment with your dermatologist for a checkup in the near future. If you have a standing appointment to have your moles checked (and you should) but it’s not for several more months, don’t wait until then. It’s important to have the mole looked at sooner rather than later.
Your dermatologist will examine any suspicious moles to determine if they need to be removed and, if necessary, biopsied. The doctor will either shave it off using a surgical blade or, if it’s larger, surgically excise it, which may require stitches.
If the mole grows back again, see your dermatologist immediately, as this is a sign of melanoma.
Symptoms of melanoma
Other potential symptoms of melanoma, according to the Melanoma Research Foundation, include a mole that:
- Changes in shape, size or color
- Becomes painful or tender
- Itches or bleeds
- Looks shiny, waxy, smooth or pale
Other potential symptoms of melanoma include:
- A flat, red spot that is scaly, rough or dry
- A firm red lump that bleeds or appears ulcerated or crusty
- A black/dark spot or streak under a fingernail or toenail that isn’t related to trauma to the nail
When melanoma is caught in its early stages, it can be cured. If melanoma is found, comprehensive cancer centers such as the USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC in Los Angeles can provide customized care and innovative techniques for battling cancer.
A quick note on new moles and children
If you spot a new mole on your child or teen, chances are it’s not cause for alarm. This is the age when normal moles start to appear, and according to the American Academy of Dermatology, they may get darker or lighter in color.
by Anne Fritz
Found a new mole? See your primary care physician to find out what the most effective options are for you.
If you are in the Los Angeles area and are looking for a new dermatologist, be sure to schedule an appointment by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or by visiting https://dermatology.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.
5 signs your child’s mole needs to be checked
Moles on a child’s skin are generally nothing to worry about. New moles appear during childhood and adolescence. As the child grows, the moles will naturally get bigger. It’s also normal for moles on a child’s skin to darken or lighten. Some moles fade away. These changes are common and rarely a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer that can begin in a mole.
In fact, melanoma is rare in young children. Even so, there are times when a mole should be checked by a dermatologist just to be sure. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable.
The following can help you decide when a dermatologist should examine your child.
Changing mole: It’s normal for a mole to grow at the same rate as a child. It’s also natural for a child’s moles to get darker or lighter.
If a mole is growing (or changing) quickly, this can be worrisome. A mole can also be worrisome if a change causes the mole to look different from your child’s other moles. Dermatologists call these moles “ugly ducklings.” Such changes can be a sign of melanoma.
Bottom line: A dermatologist should examine any mole on your child’s skin that is growing (or changing) quickly or looks different from the rest.
Melanoma on 14-year-old girl’s arm
This had been a mole for years, but then it started to change — growing quickly and becoming painful.
Mole that is dome-shaped, has a jagged border, or contains different colors: If you see a raised, round growth on your child’s skin that is pink, red, tan, or brown, it’s likely a Spitz nevus. This is a harmless mole that usually appears between 10 and 20 years of age. A child can also be born with this type of mole.
The raised surface can be smooth or rough. Sometimes, the surface breaks open and bleeds.
While a Spitz nevus is harmless, it can look a lot like melanoma, the most-serious type of skin cancer. Melanoma can bleed, break open, or be dome-shaped. Both a Spitz nevus and a melanoma can have more than 1 color.
Even when viewed under a microscope, this mole often resembles melanoma.
Any spot that looks like those described to above, should be examined by a dermatologist. In some cases, a dermatologist will want to remove it. If the spot isn’t changing, however, a dermatologist may decide to watch it closely. Sometimes, these moles eventually disappear without treatment.
Bottom line: If your child has a raised, dome-shaped growth or a mole that has a jagged border or different colors, a dermatologist should examine it.
Spitz nevus or melanoma?
This harmless mole is a Spitz nevus (A), which can look at lot like melanoma (B).
Bleeding mole: A raised mole can catch on something and become irritated. If a mole bleeds without reason, however, it should be checked. A mole that looks like an open sore is also worrisome. Bleeding or a break in the skin can be a sign of melanoma.
Bottom line: If your child has a mole that starts to bleed or looks like an open sore, a dermatologist should examine the mole.
Many moles: It’s normal for a child or teenager to get new moles. By the time a child becomes an adult, it’s common to have 12 to 20 moles.
If your child already has 50-plus moles, however, your child should be under a dermatologist’s care. Some children who have lots of moles get melanoma early in life. An Australian study found that more than half of the 15- to 19-year-old patients with melanoma had at least 100 moles.
Bottom line: A child with 50-plus moles should be under a dermatologist’s care. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable.
Having 50-plus moles increases one’s risk of getting melanoma.
Large mole: Most moles are round (or oval) spots that are smaller than the eraser on a pencil.
Some children get larger moles. A large mole can measure 7 inches in diameter or more. A giant mole can blanket part of a child’s body, as shown here. Children with these types of moles are usually born with them. These moles can also appear shortly after birth.
Having a large or giant mole increases the child’s risk of developing melanoma and other health problems. This risk is greater when the child is young. More than half of the melanomas that develop in giant moles are diagnosed by 10 years of age.
Bottom line: A child who has a large or giant mole should be under a dermatologist’s care. Caught early, melanoma is highly treatable.
The 4-year-old boy has had this giant mole since birth.
Checking moles in childhood can create a healthy, lifelong habit
Looking at moles and getting a worrisome one checked can teach your child how important it is to know your moles. If your child starts do this at an early age, it’s likely to become a lifelong habit.
Prevent skin cancer
Protecting your child’s skin from the sun now can reduce her risk of getting melanoma and other skin cancers. Learn simple, effective ways to protect your child’s skin.
Related AAD resources
How to prevent skin cancer
When is a mole a problem?
Changing mole: Image used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;64:559-72.
Spitz nevus: Image used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: J Am Acad Dermatol 2015;72:47-53.
Many moles: Image used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: J Am Acad Dermatol 2015;73:491-9.
Giant mole: Image used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: J Am Acad Dermatol 2009;61:766-74.
Other images: Getty Images
Cordoro KM, Gupta D, et al. “Pediatric melanoma: Results of a large cohort study and proposal for modified ABCD detection criteria for children.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2013;68:913-25.
Lovett, A, Maari C, et al. “Large congenital melanocytic nevi and neurocutaneous melanocytosis: One pediatric center’s experience.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2009;61:766-74.
Mitkov M, Chrest M, et al. “Pediatric melanomas often mimic benign skin lesions: A retrospective study.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2016;75:706-11.
Scope A, Marchetti M, et al. “The study of nevi in children: Principles learned and implications for melanoma diagnosis.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2016;75:813-23.
Wynnis LT, Hsu JW, et al. “Pediatric ‘‘STUMP’’ lesions: Evaluation and management of difficult atypical Spitzoid lesions in children.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2011;64:559-72.
\As a dermatologist, I receive a lot of questions about moles. It’s important to know what a normal mole looks like and what to do if you think you have an abnormal mole.
Moles and the Different Types of Moles
Moles are a tumor in a skin—a neoplasm, which is a spot in the skin full of melanocytes or the pigment cells in the skin. There are different colored moles. They can be skin-colored to light brown or dark brown to black. You may be born with moles, which are called congenital nevi or birthmarks. There are also moles you acquire throughout life. Most moles, including acquired moles, are benign, but others are may have a higher risk of turning into skin cancer.
Some People Are More Prone to Moles than Others
Genes play a role in whether or not you have moles. In fact, some people are more prone to moles because it runs in the family. Often children have very few moles when they are young, and babies typically don’t have many moles. You tend to acquire more as you get older. New moles after the age of 25 are somewhat concerning. If you get a lot of new dark, changing moles they may be cancerous so be attentive to new moles and make an appointment with your provider if you think it may be cancer.
We aren’t sure why people have moles. We think they may possibly signify a family relation, like stripes on a tiger, because often family members will have the same types of moles.
For some people the more sun exposure they get, the larger their moles grow or the more their moles may transform. Usually the concern of sun is that UV exposure can turn moles into cancer, which is why we encourage people to stay out of the sun. The only way to prevent moles from developing is to reduce sun exposure. We know the more people sit in the sun, the more moles they will get.
Normal Moles Verses Cancerous Moles
Normal moles tend to be smaller than a head of pencil eraser, less than six millimeters in diameter. They should have an even color and should be perfectly symmetrical. In other words, you should be able to fold it in half and it would be able to fold back perfectly on itself. They should be stable; they shouldn’t be changing.
We follow the ABCDE to know if your mole could potentially be cancerous. If a mole fits the description of any of the following, there is a concern that it could be melanoma. Typically if a mole becomes cancerous, it will be melanoma although there are other kinds of skin cancer.
- Asymmetry — Cut in half, it won’t fold back perfectly on itself.
- Border Irregularity — The border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred or irregular.
- Color or Changing Moles — The color of the mole is not the same throughout or has multiple shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white or red.
- Diameter — The mole is larger than a head of a pencil eraser.
- Evolving — The mole is changing in size, shape or color.
What are the other risk factors of moles?
Moles can be cancerous, but most moles are not. We do not recommend people removing all of their moles to prevent melanoma. It’s never been shown to be an effective method. We encourage patients to look at their moles no more than once a month. When you look too often, you won’t see any change. All of a person’s moles should look like they go together with similar colors and sizes. I usually say they will all look alike. Be more concerned about the mole that sticks out like the ugly ducking. If your mole is abnormal, we typically surgically remove it.
It’s very important if you are suspicious of a mole or you see it changing to get it checked out as soon as possible. When diagnosing and treating melanoma, if caught early, it is very treatable. But when caught late, it can be fatal.
Everything you need to know about growing new moles after 30
We are often told that a new or changing mole raises alarm bells for skin cancer. In actuality, it’s very common for people to acquire and lose moles over the course of their lifetime. Most moles are not present at birth but develop from around the second year of life until we reach middle age. Around one per cent of babies are born with a congenital neavus (more commonly known as a birth mark) but the majority of moles don’t form until our later childhood and early adulthood. A brand new mole in an adult aged 30+ may be a sign of an evolving melanoma.
We can still develop new moles in our 30s and 40s, but the older we get, the rarer and more suspicious new moles become. Most people do not develop new regular moles after 30. Other growths in adulthood such as freckles, lentigines, liver spots, and seborrheic keratoses are common, and these – in addition to any new moles appearing on our skin after we reach 30 – require close observation, medical evaluation and possible biopsy.
You should get your whole skin surface checked by your doctor every 12 months, or more frequently if you are at high risk of skin cancer, regardless of whether you have seen changes in your skin.
Self-monitoring for skin cancer becomes more important after you turn 30, because mole accumulation usually peaks around age 35 and begins to decline with time. Find out how to self-monitor your moles here, but keep in mind that while self-checks help to detect skin cancer, they should not replace a professional skin check.
A new mole in an elderly person should raise immediate suspicion, as most spots and freckles have completely faded by the time we reach our senior years. Similarly, a new mole that stands out from the rest in a young person should be checked for symptoms of skin cancer too, since melanoma is the most common type of cancer in Australians aged 15 to 39.
What signs should you be looking for? Find out here.
We acquire most of our sun damage (the leading cause of skin cancer) during childhood but often don’t see the effects of this damage (such as wrinkles and skin tumours) until our later years. Even though sun damage is irreparable, you can still take measures now to prevent further harm to your skin and reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. It’s important to wear sunscreen every day and reapply as directed, stick to the shade whenever possible, and put on sun-protective clothing if you must go outdoors. Check the UV rating before you head outside and avoid direct sun exposure between the peak hours of 10am and 4pm.
If you do find a mole on your skin that has changed in size, shape or colour, or has started to crust or bleed, see your doctor straight away, regardless of how long you’ve had that mole.