Although moles have a distinct look, they may not look alike. Even in the same person, moles can differ in size, shape, or color. Moles can have hair. Some moles will change slowly over time, possibly even disappearing.
It’s also important to know that moles can appear anywhere on the skin. They can develop on your scalp, between your fingers and toes, on the soles and palms, and even under your nails.
This type of mole can look like melanoma. It is not melanoma.
But you have a higher risk of getting melanoma if you have:
- 4 or more atypical moles.
- Already had a melanoma.
- A first-degree relative (parent, brother, sister, or child) who had melanoma.
Your dermatologist may call an atypical mole a dysplastic (dis-plas-tic) nevus. Nevus is the medical term for a mole. When your dermatologist is talking about two or more moles, you may hear the word “nevi.”
Atypical moles (or nevi) are often:
- Larger than an eraser on the end of a pencil.
- Have an odd shape (not round).
- Show more than 1 color — mixes of tan, brown, red, and pink.
Atypical moles can appear anywhere on the body. They often appear on the trunk. You can also get them on your scalp, head, or neck. Atypical moles rarely appear on the face.
Some people who have many atypical moles have a medical condition called familial atypical multiple mole-melanoma (FAMMM) syndrome.
People with FAMMM syndrome have:
- Many moles — more than 50.
- Some moles that are atypical.
- A blood relative who has (or had) melanoma.
When a person is born with a mole, the mole is called a congenital mole. Roughly, 1 out of 100 people is born with a mole. These moles vary in size from small to giant. Having a giant congenital mole increases a person’s risk of developing melanoma.
This mole can look like melanoma. In fact, it can so closely resemble melanoma that a dermatologist cannot tell by looking at it. Most Spitz nevi are pink, raised, and dome-shaped. A Spitz nevus can also have different colors in it like red, black, and brown. The mole may bleed. It can have an opening that oozes.
Spitz nevus: This type of mole is often pink, raised, and dome-shaped.
Most Spitz nevi appear on the skin during the first 20 years of life. Adults also occasionally get Spitz nevi.
Acquired mole (50 to 100 or more)
When a mole appears on the skin after a person is born, it is called an acquired mole. Most people who have light skin have about 10 to 40 of these moles. These moles also are called common moles.
If a person has 50 or more of these moles, the person has a higher risk of getting melanoma.
Here are 3 facts that can help you find melanoma early and get treatment:
- A change to a mole or a new mole is often the first sign of melanoma.
- You can find melanoma early by checking your own skin.
- If you see a mole or other spot that’s growing, itching, bleeding, or changing in any way, immediately make an appointment to see a dermatologist.
Most moles do not require treatment. A dermatologist will remove a mole that:
- Bothersome (rubs against clothing, etc.)
- Unattractive to a patient
- Suspicious (could be skin cancer)
A dermatologist can usually remove a mole during an office visit. Most removals require only 1 office visit. Occasionally, a patient may need to return for a second visit.
Whether it’s during 1 or 2 visits, a dermatologist can safely and easily remove a mole.
A dermatologist will use one of these procedures:
- Surgical excision: The dermatologist cuts out the entire mole and stitches the skin closed if necessary. Your mole will also be looked at under a microscope by a specially trained doctor. This is done to check for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, your dermatologist will let you know.
- Surgical shave: The dermatologist uses a surgical blade to remove the mole. In most cases, a specially trained doctor will examine your mole under a microscope. If cancer cells are found, your dermatologist will let you know.
Never try to remove a mole at home
While it may seem more convenient to shave off or cut out a mole yourself, there are 3 very good reasons a dermatologist should remove it:
- Skin cancer: If the mole contains skin cancer, some of the cancer cells can stay in the skin and even spread.
- Scarring: You can disfigure your skin causing a scar.
- Infection: A dermatologist uses sterile equipment to prevent infection.