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Moles

Definition

Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin, alone or in groups.

Most moles appear in early childhood and during the first 30 years of a person's life. It is normal to have between 10-40 moles by adulthood.

As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming raised and/or changing color. Often, hairs develop on the mole. Some moles may not change at all, while others may slowly disappear over time.

Symptoms

Although the typical mole is a brown spot, moles come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes:

Color. They're often brown, but moles can be tan, black, red, blue, pink, or flesh-colored.

Shape. They can vary in shape from oval to round.

Size. They can be as small as a pinhead or large enough to cover an entire limb. Generally, moles are less than 1/4 inch (about 6 millimeters) long — or smaller than the diameter of a pencil eraser.

When to see a doctor

If you're over 30 years old and a new mole appears, see your doctor. These signs and symptoms may indicate a medical concern:

Painful

Itching or burning

Oozing or bleeding

Asymmetry, when one half of the mole looks different

Suddenly different in size, shape, color or elevation, especially if part or all of the mole turns black

Causes

Moles are caused when cells in the skin, called melanocytes, grow in clusters or clumps with tissue surrounding them. Melanocyte cells produce melanin, the natural pigment that gives your skin its color. Normally, melanocytes are distributed evenly throughout your skin.

Most moles are harmless and don't require special care, but some people have unusual-looking moles, called dysplastic nevi, which are more likely to turn cancerous than ordinary moles are.

Treatment & Drugs

Treatment of most moles usually isn't necessary. If your doctor determines that your mole is suspicious for any reason, he or she will take a tissue sample of the mole to determine if it's cancerous.

Mole removal

If your doctor finds a mole to be cancerous, the entire mole and a margin of normal tissue around it needs to be removed surgically. These procedures are usually performed in the office of your doctor or dermatologist and take only a short time.

Surgical excision. In this method, your doctor 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.

Surgical shave. In this method, your doctor 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.

Cosmetic care

These methods may help conceal moles if you're self-conscious:

Makeup. If you have a mole that's unattractive, you may choose to cover it up using makeup designed to conceal blemishes and moles.

Hair removal. If you have a hair growing from a mole, it may be possible to clip it close to the skin's surface. Dermatologists also can permanently remove the hair and the mole.

Lifestyle & Home Remedies

In addition to periodically checking your moles, you can take measures to protect yourself from cancerous changes:

Avoid peak sun times. It's best to avoid overexposure to the sun, but if you must be outdoors, try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when ultraviolet (UV) rays are most intense.

Use sunscreen. Thirty minutes before going outdoors, apply sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. Reapply every two hours, especially if you're swimming or involved in vigorous activities. And keep in mind that sunscreen is just one part of a total sun protection program.

Cover up. Broad-brimmed hats, long sleeves and other protective clothing also can help you avoid damaging UV rays. You might also want to consider clothing that's made with fabric specially treated to block UV radiation.


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