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.

Skin Cancer Slideshow

Who is more prone to getting moles?

Inadequately pigmented people who live in sunny climates who do not practice sun avoidance are likely to have more pigmented nevi. A mole is essentially nothing more than a mass of nested melanocytes at one spot in the skin.

Does having more moles increase one's chance of getting melanoma?

Yes. The total number of irregular moles on one's body is one of the strongest indicators for the risk of developing a malignant melanoma. There is also a direct relationship between the number of innocent moles on the skin and the chance of developing an abnormal or changing mole. The more moles a person has, the greater the risk of developing atypical moles and potentially melanoma.

Do moles ever disappear spontaneously?

Yes. In some cases, moles may lighten or completely disappear later in life. In some instances, this is the result of the body's immune system attacking the mole and causing it to regress. One example of this is a "halo nevus." The presence of this phenomenon does not necessarily signal the presence of cancer. The nevus involved needs to be evaluated on its own merits, exclusive of the presence of the halo.

Is it dangerous if my mole is getting bigger? Should I remove all of my moles?

New or enlarging moles may be worrisome and should be promptly evaluated by a dermatologist. While moles may increase in size, particularly before the age of 20, regular moles are unlikely to enlarge as people get older. A mole that has increased in size is not necessarily cancerous. Enlargement alone does not necessarily mean a mole is malignant. Some regular moles may increase in size and darken in pregnancy. Often, a simple mole biopsy by a doctor can help determine if a mole is irregular.

Regular moles pose essentially little to no health risk. It is not necessary to remove all moles. The vast majority of moles are not cancerous and generally do not become cancerous. However, moles that are changing, growing, new, symptomatic, bleeding may need to be removed and examined by a pathologist under the microscope. Periodic monitoring and medical evaluation of moles is important to help determine which moles need to be removed. If one has a personal or family history of melanoma, even greater attention should be paid to any moles with a lower threshold for biopsy of irregular moles.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015

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  • Moles - Risk Factors

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  • Moles - Seborrheic keratoses

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  • Moles - Melanoma

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  • Moles - Skin Cancers

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