Most babies aren’t born with moles, but most people have a few — or even dozens — of these small pigmented spots by the time they’re adults. As the most common skin lesion, moles often emerge during childhood; people with fairer skin tend to develop more moles as time goes on.
While most moles are perfectly benign, or harmless, they can also change over time. Atypical moles aren’t simply an aesthetic issue — they may be a sign of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer.
Fortunately, Johnny L. Serrano, DO, FACOS, and the team at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy can remedy problematic moles and the cancer risk that comes with them through simple surgical excision, or removal.
Here’s how to spot an atypical mole, and what you can expect during mole removal surgery.
What do normal moles look like?
Moles have a distinct appearance that makes them what they are, but that doesn’t mean they all look alike. Even on your own skin, you may have a range of moles that differ in size, shape, and color.
Moles may appear as a flat, smooth spot with a crisp margin, as a raised, rough spot with a poorly defined border, or as a spot with a different combination of traits — flat moles can have irregular edges, for example, just as raised moles can be well-defined.
All healthy moles have these four distinct characteristics:
- Flat or slightly raised
- Round in shape
- One uniform color
- Unchanging over time
Many moles are brown or tan, but they can also be black, pink, blue, or skin-toned (colorless). They can also appear anywhere on your body, including your scalp, between fingers and toes, and even under your nails.
It’s not unusual for moles to grow hair, especially when they appear on your arms or legs. Over time, healthy moles may stay the same, change very slowly, or even fade away completely.
What makes a mole problematic?
While prominent moles can be aesthetically displeasing and raised moles can be a source of irritation, most moles aren’t abnormal or bothersome. Moles can become unhealthy, however, if they appear quickly, change rapidly, bleed, or are itchy, tender, or painful to the touch.
Knowing what your moles look like and where they are on your body is the first step in being able to identify any worrisome changes, including new, fast-growing moles.
It’s important to identify and evaluate atypical moles, as abnormal moles are a hallmark sign of melanoma, a fast-growing form of skin cancer that can be deadly when it’s allowed to progress, but easily treated when it’s spotted early.
Given that melanoma often appears as a fast-changing mole or an unusual-looking mole, it’s helpful to have a set of criteria when assessing your moles. The ABCDEs of atypical moles are:
- Asymmetry: One half doesn’t mirror the other
- Border: Scalloped, uneven, or poorly defined borders
- Color: Appears to have more than one color, shade, or hue
- Diameter: Larger than the size of a pencil eraser
- Evolution: Recent changes in size, color, or shape
Having routine skin cancer screenings with your dermatologist is the best way to ensure you catch problematic moles as early as possible; Dr. Serrano can also assess worrisome moles — and remove them as needed — any time.
What is mole removal surgery like?
Questionable moles are removed so they can be sent to a lab and biopsied. During this quick, in-office procedure, Dr. Serrano uses a local anesthetic to numb the treatment area. The type, location, and size of your mole helps determine which surgical technique is best for removal:
Mainly used for small, raised moles, shave excision uses a very thin blade to remove atypical moles at or slightly below skin level. The spot is then cauterized or closed with a sealing liquid.
This method uses a surgical blade to remove large-diameter moles and moles that extend into deeper layers of skin. When cancer is a concern, Dr. Serrano may cautiously remove a couple of millimeters of surrounding tissue, too. The area is typically closed with dissolving stitches.
To learn more about surgical mole removal at Precision Surgery and Advanced Vein Therapy in Glendale, Arizona, call 602-393-1304 or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Serrano today.