Moles, known medically as nevi, are clusters of pigmented cells that often appear as small, dark brown spots or raised lesions. However, moles can come in a range of colors and can develop virtually anywhere on your body. Most moles are harmless, but in some cases, moles may become cancerous. Monitoring moles and other pigmented patches is an important step in detecting skin cancer, especially malignant melanoma. Not all melanomas develop from pre-existing moles, but many begin in or near a mole or other dark spot on the skin.
Any new or changing mole should be evaluated to make sure that it is not cancerous. If you have numerous moles – 20 or more – you are at increased risk for atypical moles. If you have a family history of melanoma or atypical moles, then you are also at increased risk for developing atypical moles and melanoma.
Examine your skin carefully on a regular basis – ideally once a month, especially if you have a family history of melanoma – to detect early skin changes that may signal melanoma.
To detect Melanomas or other skin cancers, use this A to E skin self-examination guide:
A: is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves
B: is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders – the characteristics of melanomas
C: is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color
D: is for diameter. Look for growths that are larger than about 1/4 inch (6 millimeters)
E: is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding
If your mole is new or changing, see your dermatologist for an evaluation. If they are concerned about the lesion, then a small biopsy may be performed in the office.
Mole removal usually isn’t necessary. An Atypical mole can be removed in several ways:
- Shave Excision
In this method, your provider numbs the area around a mole and then uses a small blade to cut around and beneath the mole. This technique is often used for smaller moles and doesn’t require sutures.
- Excisional Surgery
In this method, your provider cuts out the mole and a surrounding margin of healthy skin with a scalpel or a sharp punch device.
- Sutures are used to close the skin
These procedures are performed in the office and take only a short time.