A skin mole is a spot on the skin that is usually round or oval in shape. The skin mole can be small or large, and it may range in color from pink, brown, red, or black. A single mole is referred to in medical terms as a nevus. When one is discussing moles in the plural form, they are called nevi. Virtually everyone has at least a few moles. Statistically one will find between 10-50 moles on any part of the body.
We are all born with all the moles we will ever have. Many of them are not visible at birth but will darken as one ages. A mole is called by a collection of cells named melanocytes. These are present throughout the skin and are a part of skin pigmentation. When melanocytes occur in cluster formations they result in the eventual appearance of a mole.
A skin mole may be flat or it may be raised. Some will sprout a few hairs, which is normal, but unsightly moles can be removed. Usually, since the mole is so common, people do not have one removed unless the mole is quite large. A mole can be removed using several different methods, and depending on the size of the mole, may result in some scarring.
Common methods of removing a mole are surgical, either standard or laser, and through depositing acid on the mole to burn away the tissue. Surgical removal of a skin mole may be conducted in three ways.
The surgeon can remove the visible layers of the mole with a scalpel, and then dig out the remaining melanocytes with the scalpel. He or she may also use a scalpel to take off the top layer, and then use an electric needle to destroy the tissue beneath the surface. A procedure called cryosurgery applies liquid nitrogen to the mole, which essentially freezes off the mole. Laser surgery uses directed laser pulses to destroy the mole. Cryosurgery and Laser surgery tend to result in minimal scarring, but the size of the mole influences eventual scarring from any of the procedures.
Over the counter herbal mixtures and acids may also be used to remove a mole. These may result in more scarring, and some of the claims of herbal preparations are dubious. It is also important to be certain that the mole you are removing is a regular mole and not skin cancer, since these preparations will probably not remove all layers of the mole.
All moles have the potential to become skin cancer, and one should be vigilant in watching moles for signs of melanoma, which grows from melanocytes cells. Sudden changes in a mole, bleeding, rapid growth, or irregular size may all signify development of basal cell, squamous cell, or malignant melanoma. Changes in a mole or multiple moles warrant immediate attention by a physician.
Though basal cell is not likely to spread to other part of the body, the moles can become exceptionally large, causing a great deal of scarring upon removal. Both squamous cell and melanoma can metastasize quickly, spreading cancerous cells to other parts of the body. Thus even the most innocent skin moles should be watched for changes.
If you have an abundance of moles this is called dysplastic nevi. This is a genetic condition that predisposes one for greater risk of developing skin cancer. Avoiding the sun and using sunscreen when you are outside is essential. You might want to take a picture or pictures of the moles every six months to year, in the same location and from the same angle. That way you can evaluate the pictures to see if your moles appear to be changing. Otherwise, all should watch for signs of irregularity and seek early treatment if a mole appears to have changed.