If you have moles and you’re concerned about the possibility of skin cancer, it should provide a bit of relief to know that most moles are completely harmless. However, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the signs that a mole may need professional evaluation.
Here at Hines Dermatology Associates in Attleboro, Massachusetts, Yvonne Hines, MD, specializes in diagnosing and treating even the most stubborn skin conditions. Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the United States, so it’s natural to feel concerned about moles on your skin.
How do moles differ?
Moles are small, dark spots on the skin made up of groups of pigmented cells. Their size, shape, and color can vary. Some moles have a consistent color pattern, while others may have a range of tints. Additionally, some moles are flat while others are raised.
It’s perfectly normal to have up to 40 moles by the time you reach adulthood. Heredity, sun exposure, and hormonal fluctuations play a role in the development and appearance of moles.
For most people, moles are a minor skin blemish that poses no health threat. In some cases, however, moles are a sign of a bigger issue.
Most moles are harmless
The vast majority of moles aren’t anything to worry about. They're just a cluster of melanin-producing cells. However, it’s still important to perform regular checks of your moles so you can spot any potential issues. It’s beneficial to identify suspicious moles early on.
As you age, it's common for new moles to show up or for existing ones to change in appearance. Sun exposure can play a role in developing new moles, especially if you have fair skin. Hormonal changes can also influence the number and appearance of moles.
Identifying suspicious moles
While most moles are harmless, they can, in rare cases, develop into a type of skin cancer called melanoma. Melanoma can be aggressive and deadly. However, if caught early, the five-year survival rate of melanoma is 90%.
The key to spotting melanoma in its early stages is vigilance in monitoring moles and being aware of the ABCDEs of melanoma: asymmetry, border irregularity, color variation, diameter (size larger than a pencil eraser), and if it’s evolving (changing in appearance).
These refer to typical melanoma characteristics. Melanoma is typically asymmetrical, meaning one side looks different from the other if you were to draw a line in the middle. Harmless moles have defined borders, while melanoma has irregular borders.
Additionally, harmless moles are evenly colored in brown, tan, or black, while melanoma tends to have uneven or multiple colors.
Keep in mind that not all melanomas develop from existing moles. Some can appear on previously clear skin. This makes it vital to check new and existing moles.
When to seek professional advice
Given that moles can be indicators of skin health, it's crucial to establish a self-check routine. It’s a good idea to check your moles once every 1-3 months. Contact a skin specialist immediately if you’re suspicious of a new mole or of changes in an existing mole.
Dr. Hines specializes in dermatopathology — identifying skin diseases at the cellular level. Dr. Hines can take a biopsy and evaluate skin lesions under a microscope to determine whether the mole is harmless.
Expert medical skin care
Moles are a natural part of the skin, and while they’re typically harmless, it's vital to stay proactive about skin health. Regular self-exams and annual check-ups with a dermatologist can help ensure that any potential issues are identified and addressed as early as possible.
To discuss your moles, set up a consultation with Dr. Hines today by calling 508-222-1976.