Moles are relatively safe and many people live with them for a long time. However, there has been increasing cases of these moles turning malignant in some individuals. This makes it highly beneficial to have the basics about their appearance, color, size, and symmetry. Any changes in these features should trigger an immediate visit to your doctor.
This article will highlight all the necessary information you need to know about moles. We’ll give you their causes, how to regularly examine them, as well as their treatment (this is optional; some people live with them all their lives!).
Before we continue, I feel obliged to make one clarification:
Moles are almost always benign (non-cancerous) unless proven otherwise through a biopsy!
As such, you shouldn’t freak out after the mere identification of a mole on your skin. All you need is to know how to regularly examine them to observe any unusual changes on them. This is exactly what we’ll discuss here. Keep reading:
What are Moles?
Moles are growths that appear as a raised bump on your skin. They can appear on any part of your skin either as clusters or as one growth protrusion. However, these growths can also be warts, skin tags, age spots, or oil clogs. See below for pictorial differences:
The moles range in size and color; some take the natural tone of your skin while others are darker. They are either round or oval. Also, the moles can be raised or flat.
In some cases, you may realize hairs growing on the mole which is absolutely normal. While most moles will not change, a few will slowly become raised and lighter as time progresses. In some individuals, the moles may disappear naturally over time!
How do Normal Moles Look Like?
Here, I’ll break down the features of a normal mole based on the shape, color, texture, and size. I recommend that you read and understand this section before proceeding. It will offer crucial tips on self-examination for possibilities of atypical moles:
- A normal mole should be <0.25 inches (less than 6 mm) in diameter. Congenital moles (those you were born with) may be an exception. Sometimes they may grow larger than the 6 mm which shouldn’t worry you much. Well, I know you may not have the time to measure the mole with a ruler! Here’s the tip;
The mole’s diameter should be equal to or less than that of a pencil’s eraser!
- Normal moles are usually round or oval. Be on the lookout for any changes in the shape since it could be a warning sign for melanoma. Irregular-shaped moles with asymmetrical borders is a reason enough to visit a doctor.
- Color and Texture. Normally, the color of the mole should be even. If you realize different shades of color, then you need to undergo a biopsy test. The normal colors of a mole include brown, black, or tan. You should never ignore any change in the color.
A normal mole should not bleed at any stage. If it does, then it must be examined by a professional!
What Causes Moles?
Usually, the skin’s melanocytes grow uniformly to provide an even skin. However, the cells may abnormally develop into a cluster forming a raised bump (referred to as a mole) on the skin.
Due to the high concentration of melanocytes, these moles may become darker than the other parts of your skin. Some of the reasons that may cause these abnormalities include:
- Genetics. Most of the moles are inherited from parents. If your family has a history of developing moles, then you’re at a high risk of developing them. In such cases, you may either develop congenital moles or develop them later in life.
- Excessive sun exposure. You should regulate the degree of UV rays that come into contact with your skin. To achieve this, ensure that you apply sunscreen before going out under the sun. However, there is still a significant chance of developing moles in areas covered by your clothes.
- Hormonal variations. Most moles will develop when you are between 20 and 30 years. This is due to changes in the amounts of hormones in the body.
Some moles may darken due to hormonal changes; times of pregnancy and puberty
Is it Dangerous to Develop a Mole at Old Age?
Developing acne when you’re above 35 years carries a significant risk. There is a possibility that these moles will develop into melanoma. However, not all moles that develop when you are past 35 years are malignant. Therefore, you shouldn’t freak out yet!
Instead, I recommend that you visit your doctor immediately you notice the mole. The doctor will carry out a biopsy test to determine its safety.
How to Know Whether a Mole is Skin Cancer
If you’ve read through to this point, it’s likely that you have certain tips to help you identify a mole that is likely to develop into a melanoma.
However, we’ll not tire to emphasize these points since they are the most crucial elements of this write-up. To examine moles for melanoma, we use the ABCDE technique which entails the following:
- Asymmetrical shape. As earlier indicated, a mole’s irregular shape should worry you. If you notice that one half does not resemble the other, then you should talk to your doctor immediately.
- Borders. Ragged and irregular borders are not normal
- Color. Should be even for the whole mole. Different shades of color or abnormal changes to red, white, and extreme pink should raise an alarm. You should get tested immediately.
- Size. The normal size of your moles should be less than 6 mm. If it overgrows this size, then you need a quick medical checkup.
- Evolving. You should be wary of any other changes in the shape, size, and color of the mole. Also, be particularly keen with any sign of bleeding on the mole. If you notice any abnormal changes, you shouldn’t hesitate to seek medical help.
As earlier indicated, all moles that develop after you’re 35 years present a significant risk of melanoma and should be medically evaluated.
Treatment Options for Moles
You can opt to eliminate the moles for aesthetic purposes, shows signs of developing into a melanoma, or if tests have already proven that your mole is malignant.
If your moles are normal, there exist zero reasons to have them eliminated unless you are in dire need to improve your aesthetic appearance.
If you must eliminate them, then the following options are available:
- Cutting/ Surgical Excision. When you visit a doctor and they realize suspicious signs that your mole may turn into a melanoma, they will send you to a dermatologist. The specialist will then require a biopsy sample and they may decide to remove the entire mole through surgical excision. This method is preferred when dealing with malignant moles. The doctor will use sterile scissors or a scalpel to extract the mole then stitch the skin together. The method may be difficult to apply if the mole is in a challenging position. Also, it will require some time to heal after the procedure.
- Laser Removal. This method is ideal when eradicating flat moles that barely form bumps on the skin. The doctors apply high-intensity light radiation to destroy the tissues of the mole without causing scars! The procedure may be quite expensive compared to other available options. However, the investment is worth it since it will not leave blemishes and will eradicate the mole for good!
- Freezing. This method is used when the mole has been confirmed that it isn’t malignant. Also, you should ensure that it has not developed too deep into the skin. The procedure uses liquid nitrogen to safely destroy the moles. Ensure that you seek your dermatologist’s approval before choosing this method to guarantee your safety.
- Shave Removal. This method can be painful. It also carries a significant risk of excessive bleeding. As such, I highly discourage you to undertake this procedure at home. If you must perform it, let it be guided by a professional. The process involves the use of a scalpel to cut the moles off during shaving.
Important Tips to Avoid Moles Turning into Skin Cancer
If you have already developed moles, then you should be on the lookout for the signs that we’ve already discussed herein.
You should perform a self-exam at least once a month. This is especially important if your family has had a history of developing melanoma.
Regularly use a mirror to check your entire body for moles. Do not forget to examine hidden areas including your armpits, genitals, and around the buttocks. If you notice a mole, take it upon yourself to examine it daily for any changes!
How to Avoid Developing Moles
The golden rule of reducing your chances of developing a mole is in avoiding UV radiation by whichever means. You can achieve this through the following:
- Avoid Sunlight at Peak Times. Usually, the sun rays are strongest between 10 A.M and 4 P.M. If you can, you should avoid exposing your skin to the rays at this time.
- Apply Sunscreen. Whenever you undertake outdoor activities, ensure that you apply sunscreen to protect your skin from harmful UV light. Here, we recommend that you use a broad-spectrum brand that has a minimum SPF of 30. Also, ensure that you generously apply it every two hours as long as you are exposed to the sun.
- Avoid overexposure of your skin. We recommend that you wear clothes that cover a large part of your skin. This may include long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses. Also, there are clothes that are designed to reduce the effects of the UV light; you can also use them!
- Avoid bedside lamps. These lamps may emit harmful UV lights. This is especially applicable if you are at a high risk of developing skin cancer. As such, you should consult your dermatologist for recommendations. Ensure that you inform the doctor if you have a family history of melanoma or if you have abnormal moles.
I insist here that moles are largely normal. However, you should read through this article to get the red alerts that may signify a problem with the moles. Regularly examine them for any changes and seek medical help in case of abnormalities.
Better still, you should apply sunscreen to prevent the emergence of the moles. Also, apply all the other methods that we have recommended in this article!