What are Moles?

Moles, or nevi, are pigmented spots on the skin. They often present as brown, pink, or black growths anywhere on the skin. Although they’re usually round or oval, they can appear in all shapes and sizes—flat or raised, smooth or rough—and can occur as single lesions or in multiples.

Moles occur when the cells responsible for skin pigmentation (melanocytes) grow in clusters or groups instead of being spread throughout the skin.

Moles are very common and can occur at different developmental stages in a person’s life. In general, most people develop their moles by age 20 or 30. Most moles are less than ¼ inch in diameter. On average, adults have between 10 and 40 moles. As we age, our moles can disappear or fade away.

Most moles are harmless, but any change—whether in size, shape, color, or texture—could be an indication of a malignant change. Some moles have a higher-than-average chance of becoming malignant, including the following.

Atypical/Dysplastic Nevi

These moles typically have an unusual appearance compared to an individual’s other moles. They can be irregularly shaped and they often present as larger lesions (over 6 mm). They may have color variegation (two or more colors) or uneven borders.

People with more than the average number of moles—or, holy moley!

Statistically, people who have 50 or more moles are at a greater risk for developing melanoma. If you have more than 50 moles we may recommend more frequent skin examinations.

Congenital Nevi

These moles are either present at birth or appear soon afterward. Generally, the greater the diameter of the mole, the greater the risk that it will develop into a skin cancer.

At times, moles may bleed or become painful, itchy, or scaly. These are worrisome signs for a possible melanoma. If this occurs, please call our office immediately to make an appointment.

To monitor moles and pigmented spots, the American Academy of Dermatology has developed the following guide, called the ABCDEs of melanoma.

  • A – Asymmetry: Half the mole does not match the other half in regard to size, shape, or color.
  • B – Border: The edges are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
  • C – Color: The color varies from one area to another, sometimes including red, white, blue, or shades of different colors.
  • D – Diameter: When diagnosed, the mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters (roughly the diameter of a pencil eraser), but may also be smaller.
  • E – Evolving: A mole or skin lesion changes in size, shape, or color, or is different from other moles or spots on the body.

If you note any of these conditions, please call our office at 541-706-3819 to make an appointment.