Moles are a very common type of skin growth or lesion. They often appear as small, dark brown spots and are composed of clusters of pigmented cells. Moles generally appear during childhood and adolescence. Most people have 10 to 40 moles, some of which may change in appearance or fade away over time.
Most moles are harmless. Rarely, they become cancerous. Monitoring moles and other pigmented patches is an important step in detecting skin cancer, especially malignant melanoma.
The medical term for a mole is a naevus – or the plural is naevi.
It's normal for:
- babies to be born with moles
- new moles to appear – especially in children and teenagers
- moles to fade or disappear as you get older
- moles to get slightly darker during pregnancy
It's important to get a new or existing mole checked out if it:
- changes shape or looks uneven
- changes colour, gets darker or has more than 2 colours
- starts itching, crusting, flaking or bleeding
- gets larger or more raised from the skin
These changes can happen over weeks or months. They're sometimes a sign of melanoma, a type of skin cancer.
Atypical moles, also known as dysplastic nevi, are unusual-looking moles that have irregular features under the microscope. Though benign, they are worth more of your attention because individuals with atypical moles are at increased risk for melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer.
An atypical mole can occur anywhere on the body. The appearance of these moles can vary greatly. The best advice is to know your skin. Keep track of any and all moles you may have, to give you the best chance to spot anything new, changing or unusual and bring it to the attention of your dermatologist.