Moles: Identification, Different Types, and Treatment

Moles are pigmented cells (melanocytes) aggregate together in groups, and these are called naevi.  Melanocytes and naevus cells do not normally group together to form naevi (moles) until after the first few years of life. Occasionally children are born with pigmented birthmarks (congenital naevi).  The development of new naevi (moles) or change in existing ones, especially of single naevi after adolescence is significant and we recommend seeking medical advice.

Mole or Melanoma – what’s the difference?

Harmless moles have particular traits that are easily identified:

  • Healthy moles are usually one colour all over. They are often brown, but sometimes black, tan, pink, red, blue, skin-toned or even skin coloured.
  • Healthy moles are generally fairly round and small
  • They can be flat on the skin or slightly raised
  • Their appearance doesn’t change markedly over time

Identifying a melanoma can be fairly simple:

  • Asymmetry – two sides of the mole appear different from each other
  • Border – irregular and poorly defined around the mole edges
  • Colour – the mole has various shades ranging from light to dark
  • Diameter – many melanomas are larger than regular moles
  • Evolving – the mole changes shape, size or colour over time, symptoms of crusting, itching, unevenness

If a mole develops any of the above traits, it’s time to visit your dermatologist for an expert opinion.

Mole types

Most adults have common moles that are familiar in appearance to all of us.

Atypical mole (dysplastic): These moles are varied in size and shape and are often misdiagnosed for a melanoma to the untrained eye. Although atypical moles aren’t melanoma they do present a higher risk, especially if there are several of them appearing anywhere on the body. The risk is increased for people who have previously experienced melanoma or when there is a family history of melanoma. Atypical moles are often relatively large, oddly shaped and manifest colour variations.

Congenital mole: Around one percent of people are born with a mole. This is called a congenital mole. They can vary in size from very small to very large and are known to increase the risk of developing melanoma later in life.

Spitz nevus: These moles can be difficult to diagnose by a visual check. They share many characteristics of cancerous moles including colour variations and the tendency to bleed or ooze. Although spitz nevus usually appears early in life , they can also develop during later years.

Acquired mole (sometimes more than 100): Acquired moles can appear at any time after a person is born. They are also called common moles and are more likely to manifest on people with light skin. A person with 50 or more acquired (common moles) is at an increased risk of developing melanoma.

 Mole treatment

In most cases, moles are best left alone as they are harmless. Your dermatologist can easily recognise the difference between benign moles and harmful melanomas and is fully equipped to take the necessary action to remove any troubling ones. Moles can be removed for a number of reasons, even if they aren’t cancerous. In some cases, a mole will be removed because it is unattractive or bothersome due to friction against clothing, with removal performed over the course of one or two visits to a dermatologist.

The method used to remove the mole will be determined by the dermatologist. Some less invasive moles can be removed by shaving it off at skin level, whereas more deeply entrenched melanomas are removed by a small surgical incision that is then sealed with a few stitches. It’s inadvisable to take matters into your own hands, as all cancer cells require removal by an expert who is qualified to follow up and monitor the incision site. Amateur incisions can also disfigure the skin or cause an infection.

Regardless of the type of mole removed, the skin should heal quickly. If you notice the mole growing back, or any other signs that are worrying, you should make another appointment with your dermatologist for an expert opinion and advice.