Moles are very common, especially in people who have fair skin. Moles are flesh to brown colored nodules that are an overgrowth of skin cells known as melanocytes. Although moles are like tumors in that they are both an overgrowth of cells, moles are almost always benign—non-cancerous. If the risk of being cancerous is not a main factor, when should a mole be removed?

One of the top reasons to visit a dermatologist is for a skin cancer screening, an important part of skin cancer prevention. Dermatologists will look for certain criteria when determining why or when a mole should be removed. A mole is known medically as nevus or nevi. Moles are classified into 4 types: congenital moles, dysplastic nevi, acquired nevi and spitz nevi. Congenital moles are present at birth or develop during infancy and are almost always benign. Dysplastic nevi are considered abnormal moles due to being large, having uneven edges or an uneven surface. These moles can be discolored and continue to grow over time. Dysplastic nevi are the most common type of moles that can develop into melanoma. Acquired nevi are moles that appear after you are born, often from sun exposure or a change in hormone levels common in adolescence or pregnancy. These account for most moles on the skin and are usually harmless. Lastly, spitz nevi can be hard to distinguish from melanoma unless your dermatologist performs a biopsy. These moles are often raised, pink and dome shaped. 

During an individual’s lifetime, moles may change in appearance; hair may grow out of them, and they can change in size and shape, darken, fade or disappear. Atypical or abnormal moles will be a warning sign to your dermatologist and may be cause for the mole to be removed. Your doctor will follow what is known as ABCDE protocol to recommend the removal of a mole:

Asymmetry: Moles are usually symmetrical all around. If a mole is asymmetrical, it may be a sign of skin cancer. 

Border: Regular moles are clearly defined on the skin. Moles with blurred, jagged or otherwise difficult to define borders may be cause for concern. A scalloped shaped mole may indicate irregular cell growth that will likely require a biopsy. 

Color: Most will be consistent with one color, usually brown, tan or even black; if the color of the mole is irregular such as red, white or blue, your dermatologist could determine these are warning signs of skin cancer.

Diameter: Normal moles are no bigger than the size of a pencil eraser. If a mole is larger, your dermatologist may have it removed to err on the side of safety. 

Evolving: Regular moles should not change in shape or size or consistency of color; any of these changes is a cause for seeing a dermatologist for evaluation. Evolving moles are an early sign of skin cancer. 

Most moles are harmless, only in the case of precancerous or cancerous growth should moles be removed either in part as a biopsy or completely. Although not medically necessary, some patients have moles removed for cosmetic reasons because they find them unsightly or a nuisance. 

To have your moles evaluated during a skin cancer screening, contact THE CENTER for Advanced Dermatology by either 602-867-7546 or WEBSITE to book your appointment.