Understanding Skin Growths: Moles

. 4 min read

Mole(s) (nevus) are brown or black growths on the skin that show up individually or in groups. It is one of the most common skin growths that has no bias when it comes to age or gender. In this blog post, we explain what a mole is and most importantly how to take care of them if you are prone to them.

Usually appearing in childhood and the first quarter of an individual’s life, it is considered normal to have a few dozen moles by the time adulthood comes around. While most moles stay stagnant, some have the tendency to change in shape and color as time passes, they can even grow hair, while some just completely disappear.

What are the causes for moles?
Medically speaking, melanocytes are usually spread throughout the skin but when they grow in clusters, a mole forms. A quick science lesson - melanocytes are cells that form melanin, a pigment that gives skin its colour. Although, moles are usually dark in colour compared to the individual’s skin tone, it tends to increase in darkness when exposed to the sun, during puberty and pregnancy as well.

What are the different types of moles?
Medical terms can be daunting, so we are going to explain to you the science behind moles as simple as we can. This is just information related to the different types of moles - do not self-diagnose or self-medicate yourself. The best thing to do if you have any doubts, is to consult a dermatologist - do not jump to conclusions or scare yourself. After we explain the types, we will explain when it is necessary that a mole should be checked by a dermatologist.

(1) Congenital Nevi (CN):
Occuring in about one in a hundred individuals, it shows up at birth. It has the potential to develop into melanoma which is a type of skin cancer. This information is provided to you so you understand the importance of getting your mole(s) checked.

(2) Dysplastic Nevi (DN):
These are larger mole(s) that are appear to be irregular in shape and uneven in colour. The present with dark centers and light edges. It has the potential to develop into melanoma which is a type of skin cancer. This information is provided to you so you understand the importance of getting your mole(s) checked.

When should you have your mole(s) checked by a dermatologist?
Although most moles are not dangerous, it is impossible to know its potential to turn into melanoma unless it is evaluated by a dermatologist. There are basic characteristics that you should keep an eye out for if you have one or multiple moles - prevention is better than a cure. If your mole(s) (over time) undergoes any of the following changes, please see a dermatologist:

  • Asymmetrical: the halves of the mole(s) are not similar
  • Border: irregular or jagged edges
  • Color: multiple shades like brown, black, white, red or even blue
  • Diameter: increase in size or is larger the a pencil eraser
  • Bleeding
  • Itching
  • Tender or painful
  • Any other changes in the mole(s) based on size, shape or colour

What should you mention to your dermatologist?
If you have witnessed any of the above changes in your mole(s), are pregnant, or have a familial history of melanoma or atypical mole(s) - mention this to your dermatologist on your first visit.

How to perform a self-check?
If you have mole(s), you can and should do a self check to notice (if any) changes (mentioned above) occur. Using a mirror or the help of a friend, check areas that are exposed to the sun such as your face, neck, chest, arms, hands, legs and back. A regular check-up is the best preventative care when it comes to moles.

If your mole(s) do not change over time, in any way, there is no reason for you to worry but in no means should you stop checking. It’s always best to take care of yourself!

Pro tip: If you do see any changes in the appearance of your mole(s), experience any discomfort or see a new one appear - consult a dermatologist.

How are moles diagnosed and treated?
Since, in most cases moles are not dangerous, warrant for their removal is usually due to cosmetic concern. It warrants medical removal or action only if the changes examined by a dermatologist, requires the need for it.

If a mole(s) raises concerns for your dermatologist, he/she will perform a further evaluation through a biopsy - a piece or the entire mole is cut off and examined under a microscope. It is a simple and painless procedure, but an important one. Further action will be taken based on the results of that biopsy.

If the biopsy results show any discrepancies that point to cancer, your dermatologist will cut out the entire mole or area - sometimes including the skin around it for preventative measure - and then stitch the wound closed. Your dermatologist will then explain to you the medical care needed in the future - these are professionals, you’re in good hands.

Points to keep in mind
If you have mole(s) and are pregnant, it is normal for mole(s) to increase in size and darken in colour during the course of your pregnancy. This usually occurs if the mole(s) are present on your face, armpits, thighs or vaginal area. Sometimes, new mole(s) can make an appearance as well - most go away after the baby is born. Although this is normal, do not shy away from mentioning this to your doctor. Your physician will give you further advice on if you need to see a dermatologist or not.

The characteristics and possible changes mentioned above is critical when it comes to examining mole(s). The medical information above in no way means that all mole(s) can become cancerous, it is simply to ensure that preventative measures are taken to avoid medical ailments as soon as possible. If you have mole(s), always be adamant when it comes to self-checks and report any changes (mentioned above) to your dermatologist - you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It is important to rule out any underlying health concerns for peace of mind and the importance of good health.