November 26, 2015
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Moles facts

  • Moles are common small tan or brown spots on the skin.
  • Moles may be flat or raised.
  • Sun exposure in childhood causes an increase in the number of moles.
  • Most moles appear by age 30.
  • Moles may be mistaken for freckles and other skin growths.
  • Irregular moles may develop into a skin cancer called melanoma.
  • Skin cancer may at times masquerade or hide as a regular mole.
  • Irregular or changing moles should be promptly examined by a dermatologist.
  • Minor surgery is the only effective way to remove a mole.

What are moles?

Besides being a small burrowing mammal and a unit of chemical weight, the term mole (in reference to skin) is used to describe a variety of skin imperfections. Many prefer the term beauty mark. The medical term for mole is melanocytic nevus. Moles may be tan, brown, black, reddish brown, red, purple, or skin-colored and perfectly flat or raised. Most moles are smaller than a pencil eraser (about 1/2 inch).

Certain moles become darker and more apparent with sun exposure and pregnancy. Moles can occur anywhere on the skin, including the scalp, ears, eyelids, lips, palms, soles, genitals, and anal area.

A melanocytic nevus (plural nevi) is composed of masses of melanocytes, the pigment-producing cells of the skin. However, there are a variety of other skin lesions that are also mole-like. These include seborrheic keratoses, skin tags, dermatofibromas, lentigines, and freckles. In this article, the term moles will be synonymous with melanocytic nevus.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/12/2015


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