A man looks behind him, and his bare back is covered with moles and a large question mark.

What Is the Deal With Moles?

I have moles. I do not mean the kind that might root in my backyard or a spy infiltrating my family. Of course, I mean the kind you find on your skin. I have always wondered why I have them. As a child, I always wondered why I was super tan in many tiny areas and very fair in most others. I asked myself why couldn’t I could have just spread out the color all over my body and be a bit more tan. To my young mind that would have solved a few problems.

My questions about moles

My melanoma was found on a mole. It had very dark pigmentation with jagged borders. Moles have been the focus of my skincare attention ever since. But, what about moles? What are they? Do they serve any purpose? Are there different types? Which ones do I need to be more concerned with as I check my skin?

Types of moles

I recently found a very interesting article that began to give me some answers. A mole (or nevus) is actually a cluster of pigmented skin, which can vary in color from brown to pink and flesh tone. Most are benign but should be monitored. There are three kinds of moles:1

  • Congenital moles - These are the moles that you are born with. About 1% of babies have these moles. These can be flat and vary in their color and most do not become cancerous.
  • Acquired moles - We develop these later in life. Most are brown and are the result of sun damage. They are round and may darken over time but don’t necessarily turn into melanoma.
  • Atypical moles (atypical nevi) - These are moles that pose a greater risk for melanoma. They are larger than the other moles and can have irregular-shaped borders. It is estimated that 10% of our population has these kinds of moles. I have had several of these moles removed as a precaution. While melanoma is most often associated with darker moles, atypical moles may be different shades.

It is estimated that the average person has between 10-40 moles.1 Most are harmless, but as I found out, some are not.

Moles and skin cancer

According to the article, atypical moles are precancerous (in that they can turn into cancer), but most do not. Most melanomas develop from normal skin and not a pre-existing mole.1 This is why I like to “map” my moles and note new growths on my skin. My dermatologist does the same by charting moles with a description of their appearance and measurement.

Mole removal process

I have had moles excised. My doctor simply removed them and stitched me up, if needed. Smaller moles can be shaved. This tissue has always been sent to a lab for testing. Most have not had melanoma cells and required no further treatment. Some results were inconclusive and required more skin removal and testing. I experienced very little scarring. For me, the entire process is a normal routine.

Get your moles checked

If you have any questions about a mole, I would strongly consider seeing a dermatologist. I have learned that while I am fairly well informed, I am not a trained professional, (but I have played one on TV). I cannot, and should not, try to excise moles and cannot test anything for melanoma cells - I am so glad for labs!

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