Moles, or nevi (singular: nevus), are the most common growths in humans. They are non-cancerous (benign) skin lesions that are made up of the pigment-producing cells of the skin called melanocytes. Moles can be present at birth or acquired throughout life. The incidence of nevi increases throughout childhood, peaks in adolescence, and typically wanes in older adulthood. Nevi evolve and change throughout childhood and during pregnancy. Moles that are present at birth are referred to as congenital nevi. Over 1 percent of newborns have them. Some are small, while others cover most of the skin's surface. Larger nevi carry the highest risk of becoming malignant. Evolving over time with our bodies, moles generally begin as a flat brown spot, similar to a freckle, that eventually grows larger, becoming elevated, and may grow hairs.

What does a Mole look like?

Moles may occur anywhere on the body, including the nails, palms, and soles and may be raised or flat. Moles can vary in shape from oval to round and their color from flesh-colored, reddish-brown, medium to dark brown, to blue. Non-cancerous (benign) moles are usually alike on both sides (symmetrical), have smooth borders, uniform color and can be as small as a pinhead or large enough to cover an entire limb. However, moles are generally less than one-quarter of an inch large. New moles can occur into middle age, while some moles may disappear as you age. They are likely to become larger, darker and more numerous because of hormonal changes that occur during adolescence or pregnancy.

How is a Mole diagnosed?

Making regular examinations a part of your preventive medical care will increase the likelihood of detecting any skin disorders. Talk to your doctor about a schedule that's appropriate for you. Your doctor will examine your skin from head to toe, including your palms, your scalp, the soles of your feet and the skin between your buttocks. Your doctor may take a tissue sample (biopsy) of any suspicious moles and submit the biopsy for microscopic examination.

How is a Mole treated?

Treatment of most moles usually isn't necessary. For cosmetic reasons, a mole can be removed in several ways:

  • Shave excision - Moles with a raised surface are usually removed by a process called shave excision. This involves numbing the surrounding tissue and removing the top of it so it is flush with the rest of skin. A small scar cosmetically acceptable usually results. If the mole had hair or was dark in color, these likely would remain. With this procedure, there is also a chance the mole will grow back.
  • Punch biopsy - A commonly performed diagnostic procedure on abnormal skin growths or skin tumors is a punch biopsy. First, a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) is used on the area to be removed. Then, a pencil-like instrument is used to remove a small, thin cylinder of tissue. The skin may then be sutured closed in order to heal.
  • Excisional surgery - The most common procedure requires the mole to be surgically excised (cut out). When this procedure is done, the whole area around the growth is removed and sutures are put in place to close the wound. In this situation there is only a small chance of the mole growing back and the resulting scar is usually a tiny white line.

These procedures are usually performed in the office of your doctor and take only a short time.

How to prevent Moles

Reducing the amount of direct exposure to ultraviolet radiation (sunlight) can help prevent the growth of new moles. Also, becoming more familiar with the location and pattern of the moles you already have can help you detect potential problems. Examine your skin thoroughly in the mirror once a month, especially if you have a family history of melanoma. Careful observation is the best way to detect early skin changes that may signal melanoma or other types of disorders.