1) What are moles?
Moles, or nevi, are groups of pigmented cells which usually appear on the skin as brown or black clusters or dots. Moles may be flat or raised, with many moles developing a raised profile over time. Some moles may disappear with age, while others may change color or remain unchanged. Although they are usually brown or black, they can occur in many different shades of tan, red, or pink, and can occur anywhere on the body. In most cases, moles are harmless, but in others they may develop into a form of skin cancer known as melanoma.
2) How do moles develop?
No one knows exactly why moles develop, but they do have an idea of how they form. Melanin is a pigment which occurs naturally in the skin, imbuing it with its unique color. This pigment is produced in special cells called melanocytes, located beneath the surface of the skin. When melanin is produced, it moves to the surface of the skin, usually dispersing evenly across the surface. In some cases however, these cells clump together, forming moles. Moles may darken over the course of their existence, especially during puberty and pregnancy, and may also darken as a result of sun exposure.
3) What can you do to prevent moles?
Every individual has moles. Moles occur as a result of abnormal melanin distribution, when pigment cells clump together. In most individuals, moles develop before the age of 20. To prevent the development of additional moles, you should restrict your sun exposure and wear sunscreen at all times. Many moles occur at birth, or are genetic. While all moles cannot be prevented, there are steps which should be taken to ensure moles do not develop into skin cancer. These steps include regular visits to your dermatologist or skin care physician for full body screening. In this simple, painless procedure, your physician will inspect your skin from head to toe, taking note of any moles that appear on your body. In some cases, the physician may recommend that a mole be tested to ensure it does not pose a risk. In all cases, the moles will be noted so that changes in size, shape, color, and other factors may be determined in future visits. Between doctor’s visits, individuals should keep track of moles, paying special attention to any changes in size, shape, color, or height, as well as any itching, pain, bleeding, or oozing.
4) What types of moles are cancerous?
Most moles are harmless, but certain moles are more likely to develop into melanoma. Moles present at birth, also called congenital nevi, occur in about 1 percent of the population and are more likely to develop into melanoma. Large moles – those which are larger than a pencil eraser – with irregularly shaped borders are also more likely to become cancerous. These large moles are called dysplastic nevi. Individuals with more than 50 dysplastic nevi are at a greater risk for development of skin cancer.
In addition, moles which first appear after age 20, or which change shape, color, size, or height, should be examined by a physician to ensure that they are not cancerous. Any mole which oozes, bleeds, itches, or becomes painful should also be evaluated by a physician.
5) How do you know if a mole should be removed?
When a physician notes an unusual mole, he or she will usually perform a biopsy, removing a portion of the mole or the entire mole, and sending the tissue to a laboratory to be tested. If the tests reveal that the mole is cancerous, the doctor will remove the entire mole as well as an area of skin surrounding it.
6) What mole removal options are available?
The primary methods of mole removal are shave excision, punch biopsy, and excisional surgery.
7) Is mole removal covered by insurance?
If a mole is removed because it is cancerous, or poses risk factors that may cause it to become cancerous, insurance usually covers the cost of removal. When a mole is removed solely for cosmetic reasons, the cost is usually not covered by insurance.