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When Should You Worry About a Mole?

While most people aren’t born with moles, these common skin lesions often emerge as small pigmented spots during childhood. It’s normal for adults to have between 10 and 40 moles.

Most moles are benign or noncancerous, but they can change over time. Atypical moles that have an uneven color, irregular shape, or larger size than other moles may be more than an annoying cosmetic issue — they could indicate the presence of melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer.

If you notice a new mole after age 30 or an existing mole that’s changed appearance, it’s important to get your skin checked to determine whether the mole is cancerous. When diagnosed and treated early, 99% of all skin cancer cases can be cured.

At Associated Dermatologists, with locations in West Bloomfield, Commerce, Novi, and Berkeley, Michigan, our team of experts provides professional diagnosis and treatment of all types of skin lesions. Whether your benign mole causes cosmetic issues or is a potentially malignant mole that requires evaluation, we can remove the mole and provide the treatment you need to heal.

Here’s more about how to determine whether your mole is healthy or potentially a cause for worry.

Common moles
Moles that appear before age 30 as harmless skin lesions are often called common moles. Not all common moles look alike. While you may have several common moles, they can differ in size, shape, and color.

A common mole may appear as a flat, smooth spot with a crisp margin (edge) or as a raised, rough spot with a poorly defined border. This type of mole can also have traits, such as flat with irregular edges or raised but well-defined.

Common moles are typically smaller than 5mm wide, about the width of a pencil eraser. Most common moles have these four characteristics:

Round or oval
Flat or slightly raised texture
Even coloration
Constant appearance over time
While common moles typically appear in areas that are exposed to the sun, you may find them anywhere on your body, including your scalp, between fingers and toes, and even under your nails. A common mole may grow hair, especially if it appears on your arm or leg.

Typical moles can be brown or tan. They can also be pink, black, blue, or skin-toned and appear colorless.

Over time, a common mole may remain the same, change very slowly, or fade away and disappear. Identifying all the moles on your body and keeping track of their appearance is the best way to ensure that you’re aware of their status and potential problems.

Problematic moles
It’s common to be bothered by the appearance of a mole or experience irritation when it rubs against your clothing or snags on jewelry. These issues usually indicate a cosmetic problem rather than a threat to your well-being.

However, common moles can become unhealthy. This may be the case with a mole that appears suddenly, bleeds, or changes appearance rapidly. Moles that are itchy, tender, or painful to the touch can also be problematic.

New and atypical moles can be a sign of melanoma. Without treatment, this fast-growing form of skin cancer can be deadly. It can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of your body, including your lungs, liver, or brain. Early diagnosis and treatment can be life-saving.

Identifying worrisome moles
Dermatologists have established criteria to help you identify moles that could be cancerous. If your mole has one of the ABCDEs of melanoma, you should have it checked by a dermatologist. Examine your mole using these criteria:

Asymmetry: One half doesn’t mirror the other
Border: Irregular, uneven, or rough borders
Color: Appears to have a combination of colors
Diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser
Evolution: Signs of change in size, color, or shape
Having an annual, full-body skin cancer screening with your dermatologist is the best way to identify problematic moles. A dermatologist can identify moles and characteristics that you may not recognize as being potentially harmful.

Don’t ignore a new or unusual mole. Early detection, diagnosis, and treatment of melanoma can save your life. For a professional skin evaluation, call the experts at Associated Dermatologists at the location closest to you, or request an appointment online.