Moles are tan to brown or black growths, usually round or oval in shape, that can appear anywhere on the skin. Almost every individual has a few; however, some people may develops hundreds.

The most important thing to be aware of when it comes to moles is that melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, can develop in or near a mole. Some moles increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

Types of Moles:
Research has shown that certain moles have a higher-than-average risk of becoming cancerous.

  • Congenital Mole: These are moles that are present at birth. Approximately 1 in 100 people is born with one or more moles. The larger their size, the greater the risk of developing melanoma.
  • Atypical (dysplastic) moles: These moles are irregular in shape and may be larger than average.  They often have uneven color. Atypical moles often run in families; however, anyone may develop these moles. Individuals with atypical moles are at an increased risk of developing melanoma.
  • Acquired mole: These are moles that appear after birth. Individuals with 50 or more moles are at an increased risk for developing melanoma than those with fewer moles.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends regular examinations with a board-certified dermatologist in addition to a monthly head to toe self examination to look for any new or changing moles or other markings on the body.

When examining your moles, the AAD recommends the “ABCDE” method of melanoma detection:

  • A = Asymmetry. One half of a lesion is unlike the other half.
  • B = Border. Border is irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
  • C = Color. Color is varied from one area to another.
  • D = Diameter. While melanomas are often greater than 6 mm, or the size of a pencil eraser, but oftentimes at the time of diagnosis, they can be smaller.
  • E = Evolution.  A mole or other skin lesion is changing in size, shape or color. Other changes include bleeding, scaling or itching.

Any one of the above may be an indicator of a concerning mole. A dermatologist should examine any mole that stands out from the rest, is changing, or does not fit the above ABCDE criteria. The doctor may perform a simple procedure in the office called a biopsy to determine whether or not the mole is atypical or cancerous.