Have you ever wondered how many moles a person actually has or if we grow and accumulate more over time?
Nevi, which are also known as moles, are a collection of pigmented cells known as melanocytes.
They are most common on the legs in females and the trunks in males and least common on areas that are habitually covered from the sun. Habitual sun exposure, as opposed to intermittent exposure, also increases the number of moles one has.
Moles are usually one color and can range between brown, black, pink, tan, or close to the patient’s skin tone. They can be flat, which is called a junctional nevus or raised, also known as a compound nevus.
A person between their first and third decade of life will make the most number of moles with the production dropping after that. However, the development of what appears to be a new mole after the age of 35 should prompt evaluation from a medical provider.
A mole may even darken with pregnancy or with the use of oral contraceptives.
Types of Moles:
- Common moles. These moles are described above and while you may be born with a mole, these appear later in childhood and up into the third decade of life.
- Congenital. This type of mole a patient is born with and grow proportionately with the body. They tend to favor the trunk as the location of choice. The incidence of melanoma developing in a congenital nevus ranges between 2% to 15%. Therefore, it is vital that you are aware of any changes in your moles and should alert a medical provider for evaluation.
- Blue nevus. These moles appear as a well-defined blue smooth raised growth. Given their similar appearance to melanoma, it is important that these are evaluated.
- Dysplastic nevus. These moles are also called atypical moles. They differ from common moles in the fact that they are irregular looking with indistinct borders and are larger than common moles. Also, the sun promotes the development of these moles. It is particularly important that family history is obtained to include members with other atypical moles and even melanoma.
- Limit your exposure to the sun, particularly between the hours of 9 and 4 o’clock when the sun is at its peak. Also, skip the tanning bed.
- Not only apply sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, but reapply every 2 hours, sooner if you are in the water or doing vigorous activity. Be sure to review our Sunscreen Information.
- Sun protective clothing works even better than sunscreen as it does not have to be reapplied.
How to Conduct a Skin Exam:
Although patients come in for skin exams performed by our providers, the patient should not discount performing their own exams at home.
- Be familiar with what your moles look like. This means taking pictures of areas that are not seen easily by the patient like the back.
- Enlist help from family members and friends to check hard to see areas.
- If any changes are noted to include an increase in size, change in color or border, hardening, or pain, alert your provider so the area can be evaluated.
Please do not be overly concerned that your mole is melanoma but do be aware that it is possible a mole can differentiate into a melanoma.
An example of the importance of performing self-skin exams is illustrated by a patient that came into the office complaining of a mole that had changed in color and size on his back. His wife was also in agreement with the changes and therefore a biopsy was performed. It did confirm a melanoma, but fortunately, it was caught early and the prognosis for this patient is excellent. The patient and his wife were so thankful that our office saw them promptly and was attentive to their concerns.
Although moles do not require any specific treatment, they should be biopsied if they have exhibited any change or their appearance looks concerning to the medical provider.
Also, a biopsy may be warranted if there is a mole in a location that is not easily monitored, like the back. Rest assured that the providers here at Advanced Dermatology perform thorough exams and take time to evaluate anything that is concerning.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Are all moles harmless?
As we age, we do accumulate more moles. However, that does not mean that the mole is harmful because it is new. It becomes more imperative that a mole is evaluated if it is new and the patient is over the age of 40 since the production of moles drops off in the third decade. It is also essential that the patient is aware of their moles and alert the office of any changes. There is a chance that a mole can change into a skin cancer known as melanoma. The only way to be definitive about a diagnosis is to have a biopsy performed, however.
I’ve had this mole for years, is it possible it can change into something more concerning?
It is possible that a mole can differentiate into something more concerning and almost half of the melanomas occur in pre-existing moles. That is why it is key that any moles that change are evaluated, particularly if a patient is over the age of 40 as new moles should not be arising.