Moles are a pigmented or non-pigmented lesion that can be flat or raised, depending on where the pigmented cells are in the layers of your skin. Moles in and of themselves are harmless but can become dangerous when they change colour, grow larger, or become abnormally raised. Moles are usually circular and oval with a smooth edge and brownish in colour. Some moles can be flat or raised, smooth or rough, and some have hair growing out of them.
Why do they appear?
Moles are genetic and usually present at birth or develop in the first 30 years of life. People with fair skin or spend a lot time in the sun are more prone to them. They can fade away over time and they can change in number and appearance. They sometimes respond to hormonal changes. For example during:
▪ Pregnancy – moles may get slightly darker
▪ Adolescents – moles may increase in number
▪ Older age – moles may disappear from age 40 and up
Areas they are commonly found
Across the entire body
Most moles are harmless although they can be unsightly, catch on your clothing, or be a bother when shaving. Consult with your doctor if you would like a mole(s) removed.
Nearly all moles are benign (harmless), but moles can change from normal to harmful in a very short period. You should check your skin at least every two months for harmful moles that can develop into melanoma – an aggressive and deadly form of skin cancer. Melanomas usually appear as a dark spot where there was not a spot before and it grows quickly. Pre-existing mole can develop into melanoma as well.
A good method to check your moles is the ABCDE method which stands for asymmetry; border irregularity; colour change; diameter; elevated or raised. If you see any changes, you should see your doctor immediately because it could be a warning sign of melanoma.
If you have many moles, you should avoid prolonged exposure to the sun as it increases your risk for melanoma. Although it might not be possible to prevent melanoma, there are some things you can do to decrease the risk. To protect yourself from the sun you should take the following steps.
▪ When the sun is strongest – between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. – stay in the shade
▪ Cover your body with clothes, wear sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat
▪ Use sunscreen with a minimum of sun protection factor (SPF) 15 and apply it often, especially when swimming.
▪ Stay away from tanning beds and sun lamps