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Moles are brown or black growths, usually round or oval, that can appear anywhere on the skin. They can be rough or smooth, flat or raised, and single or in multiples. They occur when cells that are responsible for skin pigmentation, known as melanocytes, grow in clusters instead of being spread out across the skin. Generally, moles are less than one-quarter inch in size. Most moles, also known as nevi, appear by the age of 20, although some may appear later in life. Most adults have between 10 and 40 nevi, but because they last about 50 years, moles may disappear by themselves over time.

While moles are not often dangerous on their own, they can develop into skin cancer. If you notice a new or changing mole, make an appointment with your dermatologist. We can conduct a skin check and biopsy to easily discover whether your mole is malignant or benign.


Types of Moles 

Most moles are harmless, but a change in size, shape, color, or texture could be indicative of a cancerous growth. Moles that have a higher-than-average chance of becoming cancerous include:

  • Congenital Nevi are moles present at birth. The larger their size, the greater the risk for developing into a skin cancer.
  • Atypical Dysplastic Neviare irregularly shaped moles that are larger than average. They often appear to have dark brown centers with light, uneven borders.


When to See a Doctor for a Mole

People with 50 or more moles are at a greater risk for developing a skin cancer. In some cases, abnormal moles may become painful, itchy, scaly or bleed. It’s important to keep an eye on your moles so that you can catch any changes early. We recommend doing a visual check of your body monthly, including all areas that don’t have sun exposure, such as the scalp, armpits, or bottoms of feet.

When conducting a self-check, we recommend using the American Academy of Dermatology’s strategy, the ABCDEs, as a guide for assessing whether a mole may be becoming cancerous. This includes looking for and observing the following.

  • Asymmetry:Half the mole does not match the other half in size, shape, or color.
  • Border:The edges of moles are irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined.
  • Color:The mole is not the same color throughout.
  • Diameter:The mole is usually greater than 6 millimeters when diagnosed, but it may also be smaller.
  • Evolving:A mole or skin lesion that is different from the rest, or changes in size, shape, or color.

If you notice any of these conditions, make an appointment to see one of our dermatologists right away. The doctor may do a biopsy of the mole to determine if it is or isn’t cancerous and/or may surgically remove it.


Scheduling Your Mole Appointment

Scheduling an appointment is the first step toward discovering whether your mole is malignant or benign. This can be a very stressful time for some patients who suspect skin cancer. It is important to remember that the earlier cancer is detected, the better it is able to be treated. If you’re ready to have a mole checked out, or if you’d like to schedule a regular skin check.