Beauty spot, birthmark, blemish, freckle. There are a few different names for them and we all have them, but what exactly are moles? This month, we provide some clarity on moles and tips on what to look for if they begin to change.
What is a mole?
Moles are caused when cells in the skin called melanocytes grow in clusters or clumps within surrounding tissue. Melanocytes produce melanin, a pigment that provides skin with its color. When the melanocytes clump together, they continue producing melanin, resulting in a higher concentration of melanin in that area. This concentration of melanin is what gives a mole its darker color. Since each individual has a different level of pigmentation in their skin, moles can vary in color.
ABCDE’s of Moles:
We’ve all heard that we should keep an eye on our moles to make sure they don’t change. But just what changes should we be looking for?
A- Asymmetry: When one half of the mole does not match the other half
B- Border: When the border or edges of the moles are blurred or irregular
C- Color: When the color of the mole is not the same throughout, or when there are shades of tan, red, white, or blue in the mole
D- Diameter: When the mole is larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser, although melanomas can sometimes be much smaller
E- Evolution: When the mole changes in size, shape, elevation, or color. Most normal moles remain the same for years.
If you notice any similar changes or if the appearance of a mole worries you, you should see your dermatologist immediately. Your dermatologist can determine whether the mole is malignant and decide the best treatment option.
What does it mean when a mole is atypical?
Moles can develop and change over time and become atypical. A biopsy is the best way to determine if a mole is atypical.
There are 3 stages of atypia: mild, moderate, and severe. While an atypical mole is NOT skin cancer, these lesions DO have a higher probability of continuing to develop in an atypical fashion into skin cancer, specifically melanoma. Thus, we always recommend complete removal of all moderately to severe atypical moles to eliminate the risk of future skin cancer in that spot.
A great way to think about the levels of atypia is a continuum:
Check yourself regularly, and see your dermatologist once a year for a thorough screening (more frequently for those with a history of skin cancer).