What are moles?
Moles are small, dark marks that appear on the skin. They are usually round or oval in shape and are caused when the cells that produce pigment, called melanocytes, grow in groups.
Most people have about 50 moles. They can appear anywhere, including palms and soles, nails, genitals, scalp and eyes.
Moles are different to freckles. Freckles are flat, where moles tend to be raised.
There are different types of moles:
- Benign naevus/mole: a normal mole. It is harmless.
- Congenital naevus/mole: a mole that a child is born with, or that develops shortly after birth.
- Blue naevus/mole: a blue mole, usually harmless.
- Dysplastic mole, or atypical naevus/mole: usually larger than 5 mm, often with a smudgy, ill-defined border, and uneven colour, irregular shape and some pinkness. They rarely turn into melanoma but the risk of melanoma goes up the more dysplastic moles you have.
- Cancerous mole: Most moles are harmless, but there is a very small risk they may develop into melanoma. People who have a large number of moles (more than 100) are at greater risk.
How are moles diagnosed?
Regular skin checks performed by your doctor are important, especially if you have a large number of moles or several dysplastic moles. Your doctor will most likely use a dermatoscope (for magnification) to determine if a mole has features that are suspicious for cancer. Photographs may also be used to compare lesions from one skin check to the next.
You should self-examine your skin at least every 3 to 4 months and tell your doctor if you notice any moles that are new, growing or changing.
Check your moles regularly and look out for the following:
- changes to the size and shape
- any changes to the colour — look out for moles that have several colours or shades
- any bleeding, soreness, itching, weeping or inflammation
- a crusty or flaky appearance developing
- an outline that looks notched
- new moles which look different or unusual
If you have a mole, avoid scratching or picking it — keeping children’s fingernails short and trimmed may help stop them scratching their moles.
If your mole is in a vulnerable area where it could be knocked or scraped against something, you should try to protect it.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
How are moles removed?
Your doctor may decide to remove a role if it is larger than usual or it looks like it may be cancerous. You may also decide to have a mole removed if it is painful or you do not like the way it looks.
The doctor will give you a local anaesthetic to numb the area and then cut or shave the mole off with a surgical blade, or use a hollow tube with a sharp end (punch device) to remove the mole.
You may have stitches to the area and a dressing will be put on top.
After a mole is removed, you should take care to keep the wound area clean and use pain relief medication if needed. Check for redness, swelling, pain, discharge or a bad smell.
Can moles be prevented?
The number of moles is mainly caused by the genes you inherit. However, exposure to sunlight, especially in childhood and early teenage years, can lead to new moles developing.
Always make sure you avoid the sun and protect your skin by wearing tightly woven longer sleeved clothing, broad brimmed hats and sunglasses and applying sunscreens regularly.
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Last reviewed: August 2021