Besides being a unit of chemical weight and a tiny burrowing mammal, the term mole pertains to a variety of pigmented spots on the skin. The medical jargon for this is melanocytic nevus, but many prefer to call it a beauty mark. Mores may be brown, tan, reddish brown, black, purple, red, or skin-colored. They could be either perfectly flat or raised. They are typically smaller than a pencil eraser or about a fourth of an inch.
What are moles?
Congenital melanocytic nevi are present at birth. Any moles that grow after birth are melanocytic nevi. These are made up of masses of melanin-producing cells called melanocytes. Melanin is what gives skin its color. Most lesions appear during the first 20 to 30 years of a person’s life. Those with darker complexion often have fewer moles than those with fair skin. There are a variety of other skin lesions that have mole-like characteristics. These include skin tags, freckles, seborrheic keratoses, sun spots, and dermatofibromas. In this article, we’ll be using the word mole for melanocyte nevus.
Most adults have between 10 and 40 regular moles. These are usually found above the waist on parts exposed to the sun. They are seldom found on the breast, scalp, or buttocks. Certain moles become darker and more obvious with pregnancy and sun exposure. Although common moles may be present at birth, they generally start to appear later in childhood. Many people continue to develop new moles until around age 40. In seniors, these growths tend to fade away.
Causes and Risk Factors
The biggest factors involved in developing moles are genes and sun exposure. Children who play a lot under the sun tend to have more moles. However, these pigmented spots may also occur even in sun-protected areas. Freckles and moles are darker than the surrounding flesh. Freckles are always flat, while moles may be completely flat or raised. If you are prone to freckles, you have a higher chance of developing moles. Freckles are flat spots that are a tad reddish, tan, or light brown. They typically appear during summer and are more common in people with light complexions.
Those with red or blond hair, blue or green eyes are more prone to these types of skin spots. Protecting the skin from the sun or avoiding too much exposure may help suppress the appearance of some types of freckles and moles. Moles appear in all races – whether you’re African, Asian, Caucasian, or Indian. Even animals have moles.
Moles From Infancy To Adulthood
Babies may be born with moles or develop them gradually through their teenage years. These spots tend to ascend slightly in proportion to normal body growth. As congenital moles are those already present ay birth, they must have started developing during the fetal period. Other melanocytic nevi may grow later due to environmental factors like frequent exposure to the sun.
While many moles appear in the first years of life, the total number of melanocytic nevi usually peaks in a person’s 20s or 30s to an average of 35. Most people stop developing new common moles by the time they’re 30. However, non-mole growths like lentigines, freckles, seborrheic keratoses, and liver spots often come in late adulthood.
If you’re over the age of 35 and start noticing new moles, you may have to undergo a medical evaluation and possibly a biopsy. At this time of your life, new moles may be a sign of an early melanoma or an evolving abnormal mole. Pay close attention to this new growth and visit a dermatologist to have it evaluated.
Skin Cancers That Look Like Moles
Moles could be a warning sign of developing cancer. If you are concerned about a particular growth, be sure to check with your doctor. Here are skin cancers to watch out for:
This is regarded as the most harmful form of skin cancer. Melanoma develops when the DNA of skin cells become damaged. This triggers genetic defects that result in the rapid increase of skin cells and the formation of cancerous tumors. Ultraviolet radiation from tanning beds or sunshine are the most common triggers of these mutations.
Melanomas frequently resemble moles; some grow from lesions. Anyone who has more than 100 moles is at greater risk for this skin disease. The initial signs can appear in one or more atypical moles. It’s important to know your skin well, so you can recognize any changes in the moles on your body. Watch out for asymmetry, scalloped or notched edges, and more than two colors in moles. If you observe a change in size, shape, elevation, as well as symptoms of itching, bleeding, or crusting, report to your doctor immediately.
This is a brown patch, usually on the face of the elderly. This precursor lesion can cause lentigo malign melanoma. Expansion of this flat patch can last for decades and a type of skin cancer may develop in it. The treatment of choice for small lentigo maligna is surgical excision. For seniors, radiation therapy is often recommended, especially for an extensive lesion. A quick in-office exam called a skin biopsy can help identify lentigo maligna.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is the most common type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma starts in the basal cells – a category of cell within the skin that generates fresh skin cells as old ones die off. Though it can take other forms, this disease often shows as a somewhat transparent bump on the skin.
Just like common moles, basal cell carcinoma develops on sun-exposed parts of your body, particularly your neck and head. Watch out for black, brown, or blue lesions, especially the ones that are slightly raised and have a translucent border. Surgery and killing cancerous cells by freezing them liquid nitrogen are treatment options for this cancer.
When To See A Doctor
Patients with pigmented spots or unusual moles should have a dermatologist evaluation. Even photographs and verbal descriptions cannot convey enough information for satisfactory self-diagnosis. Include routine moles checks in your annual health screenings. It is essential to have any new, evolving, bleeding growth examined by a skin doctor as soon as possible. If detected and treated early, skin cancers are generally curable.