Human skin and the development of moles go together — the average person has between 10 and 40 moles, most of which develop in early adulthood before the age of 30. The vast majority of these are harmless, but some, called dysplastic moles, are precursor lesions of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. That’s why it’s important for you to keep an eye on your moles, watching for changes.
At Rendon Center Dermatology & Aesthetic Medicine, our board-certified dermatologists remove moles, mostly for cosmetic reasons, but also when the moles are dysplastic.
What causes moles to form?
The melanocyte cells give your skin its color. These same cells are responsible for those moles across your body. When melanocyte cells grow in clusters rather than being spread across the skin, that is a mole. Moles are usually brown or black and can grow anywhere on your skin. Thanks to their melanin, moles can darken with sun exposure and due to hormonal changes, such as during puberty or pregnancy. Moles can change over time, developing hairs, becoming more raised, even changing color. When those changes in height, color, size, or shape occur, that’s when a mole could be transforming from being harmless to a potential future melanoma.
Why it is beneficial to have a mole removed?
As mentioned above, we all have at least a few moles. They’re typically harmless, and you don’t need to do a thing about them. But most of us, short of the famous American model Cindy Crawford, don’t like seeing moles on our faces or other high-profile locations. Also, some moles are in just the right spot to continually be brushed by clothing, which can make them sensitive or even bleed. We can take off these cosmetic nuisances at Rendon Center.
Those are voluntary mole removals for cosmetic reasons. If a mole is displaying signs of change, they need to be at least thoroughly checked, and likely removed, as they could be a future melanoma.
What are the signs I need to watch for with moles?
Although most moles are benign, occasionally they can be a precursor to melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. If a person has over 50 moles, he or she is at a greater risk for developing melanoma. We want our Rendon Center patients to know what to watch for with their moles, so if your mole exhibits these signs, please call us.
Watch if the mole:
- Is larger than six millimeters
- Itches and bleeds
- Changes color, size, or shape
- Has multiple colors
- Is located where it can’t be easily monitored, such as on the scalp
How are moles removed?
Most moles don’t require any treatment. But they may be cosmetically unappealing or uncomfortable when they rub on your clothing, and you may want the mole surgically removed. Obviously, moles that are showing signs of possible melanoma need to be removed and examined.
Removing a mole takes just a few minutes. At Rendon Center, our board-certified dermatologists remove moles in three ways:
- Excision — Some moles can be shaved off with a blade. Other moles with cells under the skin will require a deeper incision to remove the entire mole and prevent it from returning. This may require a couple stitches to close.
- Freezing — Liquid nitrogen can be sprayed or swabbed onto the mole. This freezes the mole’s cells, and they die. The mole will peel off in a week or two.
- Burning — An electric current that heats a wire can be used to burn off moles. Larger moles may take more than one treatment to fully remove them.
None of these methods is difficult, but the area will be numbed with local anesthetic prior to removing the mole.
What is the difference between a biopsy and removal?
A biopsy involves taking tissue and examining it for signs of cancer. With the skin, this is primarily to check to see if a lesion is skin cancer. When a growth is biopsied, the goal isn’t necessarily to remove all the cancer — at that point it is unknown whether the growth is cancer — but to supply a sample for testing.
In the case of mole removal, odds are biopsy and removal could be one and the same. Moles are not large, so they don’t involve removing a large portion of tissue to remove them. If the mole displays the characteristics we described above, the removed mole will then be the biopsy sample sent to the lab for testing.
If a sample is biopsied and comes back positive for skin cancer, there could be need to remove further tissue in a second excision to ensure a wider ring of tissue is removed. That is another difference between a straight mole removal and a biopsy and possible skin cancer.