Thumbnail image of: Skin, Cross Section: Illustration

Moles

What are moles?

Moles are small bumps or areas of darker color that can grow on any part of the skin. Most moles are brownish but they can be different colors. Moles often start out flat like a freckle, but they may become raised. Many grow larger and some develop hairs.

Most people have at least a few moles. Most moles are harmless. Rarely, a mole changes and becomes skin cancer.

What is the cause?

Some moles are present at birth. Most appear on the skin during the first 20 years of life, especially during puberty. They happen when skin cells make too much melanin. Melanin is a chemical that gives color to your hair, skin, and eyes. Why some skin cells make too much melanin is not known.

How are they treated?

Because most moles are harmless, they usually need no treatment. You may want to remove the mole if:

  • You don’t like the way it looks.
  • It catches on clothing or jewelry and itches or bleeds.
  • You have a cut near the mole that gets infected.

You can trim hairs on moles or have them removed permanently by a dermatologist.

How a mole is removed depends on where the mole is, how big it is, and why it is being removed. You will be given medicine to numb the area before the mole is removed. Some moles can be shaved level with the skin. If the mole is large or deep, your healthcare provider will use a scalpel to make a cut around the mole. The mole and skin can be lifted up and cut away from the rest of the skin. The cut will be closed with stitches, staples, skin glue, or surgical tape. This method is used if there’s any concern that the mole might have cancer cells. The mole can be sent to the lab to be checked for cancer.

Moles found to be skin cancer may require that the area be treated with more extensive surgery or radiation therapy. Some types of cancer may require treatment with anticancer drugs.

What changes in moles should I watch for?

Think of the letters A, B, C, and D to remember the guidelines for checking for abnormal moles:

  • Asymmetry: The shape of one half of the mole does not match the other half.
  • Border: The edges are ragged, notched, or irregular.
  • Color: The color is uneven. Moles may be black, brown, tan, white, grey, red, pink, or blue.
  • Diameter: There is a change in size. Melanomas are usually bigger than the eraser of a pencil (1/4 inch or 5 millimeters).

You should have your healthcare provider check any change you notice in a mole, such as if moles itch, hurt, bleed, swell, or come back after removal.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-06-09
Last reviewed: 2014-05-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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