What is a Mole?
Moles, medically known as nevi, are skin lesions that we develop throughout our life. Although the look, size, shape, location and color of a mole can vary, most of the moles are round, a few millimeters in size, flat, slightly raised or hairy. They are usually skin color to dark brown. Almost everyone has a few moles.
Hormonal changes often cause more moles to appear and existing ones to enlarge or darken, especially during adolescence or pregnancy. Moles that have a look different than a “normal” mole may be worrisome because skin cancers can look just like a weird mole. Moles are classified as either typical or atypical.
These moles are usually benign, flesh-colored, yellow brown, or black. They usually appear in childhood or adolescence and can appear anywhere on the body. These types of moles are 1 to 10 millimeters in size and approximately 10 in number. These benign moles are classified based on clinical characteristics and histological appearance.
Typical benign Moles are the following:
- Junctional Nevus: These are uniformly pigmented and usually flat, but sometimes may be slightly elevated. They have a light brown to almost black color, sharp margins, and a size of 1-10 millimeters.
- Intradermal Nevus: These have a flesh to brown color and are elevated. They may be smooth, hairy, or warty and are 3–6 millimeters in size.
- Compound Nevus: These are light to dark brown, may be slightly or considerably elevated, and are 3-6 millimeters in size.
Atypical mole, medically known as dysplastic nevus, look and act different than typical moles. These types of moles are usually hereditary and may develop into melanoma, a potentially fatal form of skin cancer. Atypical moles are flat or slightly raised and generally larger ( 5-12 millimeter) than ordinary moles and have an irregular borders. Their color frequently is not uniform and can be tan to dark brown color.
Atypical moles continue to appear after adolescence, most commonly on sun exposed skin. There may only be a few, but they can also exceed more than a hundred in number.
A biopsy of the lesions with the most severe appearances should be performed to establish a diagnosis and to determine the degree of atypia.
- Halo Nevus: This refers to any type of dark mole surrounded by a 2 to 6 millimeter ring of depigmented skin. Such a mole can have inflammation, disappear spontaneously or, in rare cases, convert to cancer.
- Freckles: These are not actually moles, but simply deeper pigmentations of the skin found usually on the face and arms.
- Lentigo: These are spots on the skin that are darker than the surrounding skin and usually caused by sun exposure. They are uniformly pigmented and flat with a brown to black color and sharp margins. Usually 0.5 – 4 millimeters in size.
At what age and how do moles appear?
- Congenital moles are moles that appear at birth. These occur in about one in 100 people and are more likely to become cancerous than moles that develop after birth.
- Typical moles usually first appear in childhood or adolescence as a flat spot containing two or more shades of tan and gradually become larger and darker. They rarely appear later than adolescence in life.
- Atypical moles carry a risk of becoming cancerous and usually continue to appear after adolescence, particularly in sun exposed area.
Moles in infants and children:
Babies may sometimes be born with a few moles called congenital moles. These must be checked for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment, but very few of these moles are cancerous.
Moles on the face or other frequently exposed areas of skin may be troubling for children. If a child is particularly troubled by a mole, consult with Dr. Shafa for the cosmetic removal of such bothersome skin lesions.