Moles

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Cancerous Moles

Skin Changes, How to Spot Skin Cancer

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime. Sun exposure is the leading cause of skin cancer, and people with fair skin and light eyes whose skin has a tendency to burn easily in the sun are most susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun's UV rays. Fortunately, most skin cancers can be detected in their early stages since skin tumors are more visible than tumors of the internal organs.

Picture of moles

Moles facts

  • Moles are common small tan or brown spots on the skin.
  • Moles may be flat or raised.
  • Sun exposure in childhood causes an increase in the number of moles.
  • Most moles appear by age 30.
  • Moles may be mistaken for freckles and other skin growths.
  • Irregular moles may develop into a skin cancer called melanoma.
  • Skin cancer may at times masquerade or hide as a regular mole.
  • Irregular or changing moles should be promptly examined by a dermatologist.
  • Minor surgery is the only effective way to remove a mole.

What are moles?

Besides being a small burrowing mammal and a unit of chemical weight, the term mole (in reference to skin) is used to describe a variety of skin imperfections. Many prefer the term beauty mark. The medical term for mole is melanocytic nevus. Moles may be tan, brown, black, reddish brown, red, purple, or skin-colored and perfectly flat or raised. Most moles are smaller than a pencil eraser (about 1/2 inch).

Certain moles become darker and more apparent with sun exposure and pregnancy. Moles can occur anywhere on the skin, including the scalp, ears, eyelids, lips, palms, soles, genitals, and anal area.

A melanocytic nevus (plural nevi) is composed of masses of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells of the skin. However, there are a variety of other skin lesions that are also mole-like. These include seborrheic keratoses, skin tags, dermatofibromas, lentigines, and freckles. In this article, the term moles will be synonymous with melanocytic nevus.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015

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