Everyone has moles (also known as “nevi”), sometimes 40 or more. Most people think of a mole as a dark brown spot, but moles have a wide range of appearance. They can be raised from the skin very noticeable, contain dark hairs, or they may be dangerous. Moles can appear anywhere on the skin- alone or in groups. They are usually brown in color and can be various sizes and shapes. The brown color is caused by melanocytes, special cells that produce the pigment melanin. Moles are probably determined before a person is born. Most appear during the first 20 years of a person’s life, although some may not appear until later in life. Sun exposure increases the number of moles. Each mole has its own growth pattern. At first, moles are flat and tan, pink, brown or black in color, like a freckle. Over time, they usually enlarge and some develop hairs. As the years pass, moles usually change slowly, becoming more raised and lighter in color. Some will not change at all. Most moles will slowly disappear, seeming to fade away. Others will become raised so far from the skin that they may develop a small “stalk” and eventually fall off or are rubbed off. This is the typical life cycle of the common mole. These changes occur slowly since the life cycle of the average mole is about 50 years. Moles may darken, with exposure to the sun. During the teen years, with birth control pills and pregnancy, moles often get darker and larger and new ones may appear. If your dermatologist finds an irregular mole, he or she will perform a biopsy by giving you a numbing injection near the mole and removing it. The mole will be sent to the pathologist who will then examine the sample.
For cancerous moles, your doctor will do a surgical procedure to remove it. If you have a mole that causes irritation when you shave, you may want to have it removed.
Mole removal takes only a short time and is usually done on an outpatient basis. Your doctor numbs the area around the mole and cuts it out, along with a margin of healthy skin if necessary. The procedure may leave a permanent scar.
If you notice that a mole has grown back, see your doctor promptly.