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When Does a Mole Warrant a Medical Evaluation?

Conveniently Located to Serve Houston and the Greater Houston Area

Moles are common to the human experience and are usually harmless. They’re known as “nevi” (plural) or “nevus” (singular) in the medical world. Most individuals have somewhere between 10 and 40 moles that typically develop in childhood and adolescence.

However, new or changing moles can be a sign of melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma is relatively easy to treat and is almost always curable when caught in its early stages. When ignored and allowed to evolve, it can spread to other areas of your body (metastasize) and become fatal.

That’s why routine mole checks by a skin specialist, such as the dermatologists at Elite Dermatology & Plastic Surgery in Katy, Kingwood and Tomball, TX, are so beneficial.

These dedicated physicians have extensive experience in diagnosing and treating melanoma. They encourage their patients to monitor for worrisome symptoms between exams by looking out for the ABCDEs: Asymmetry, Borders, Color, Diameter, Evolving. They break that acronym down for you here and provide more details about when a mole may need medical attention.

The ABCDEs of moles

Asymmetry: A normal mole is symmetrical, meaning both sides appear the same if you draw an imaginary line down the middle. One of the warning signs of melanoma is asymmetry, when one side may appear much darker, have a different shape, or in another way does not match the other side.

Borders: Unremarkable moles have smooth borders that are even and create a well-defined and easily discernible line where the mole stops and normal skin tissue begins. The borders of a melanoma are often scalloped, jagged, or otherwise irregular.

Color: Moles can be brown, black, red, or even blue, but a normal mole is usually one color throughout. Melanomas, on the other hand, may have a variety of colors within one growth that could range from dark brown to light brown to black, blue, red, or white.

Diameter: Benign (noncancerous) moles are usually smaller than cancerous growths, typically smaller than a pencil eraser. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that an untreated melanoma generally increases in size and may be small when first detected.

Evolving: During childhood, it’s normal for a mole to grow at the same pace as your child and darken, lighten, or fade with age. Once you’re an adult, however, moles normally look about the same from year to year. A mole that’s developing or evolving into melanoma often shows changes in color, shape, size, or symmetry. It may also become more elevated, start to itch, or bleed easily.

Because the appearance of melanoma can vary greatly, it’s important that you come in for a mole check if you notice just one of these potential warning signs of a cancerous growth.

Abnormal moles are not just for adults

It’s very rare for children to develop melanoma, but it is possible. Signs to monitor in your children include:

  • Rapidly growing moles that may differ in appearance from other moles
  • Moles that are dome-shaped, have irregular borders, or vary in color, which is often a Spitz nevus (benign mole) but may indicate melanoma
  • Bleeding, itchy, or painful moles

Many moles — more than 50 — may also indicate that your child is at increased risk of developing melanoma. In this case, routine skin checks performed by a dermatologist are vital and should continue into and throughout adulthood.

What happens if my mole looks abnormal?

It’s important to remember that changes in your mole don’t always indicate cancer. But the only way we can determine that is with a thorough examination of the mole, which sometimes includes a biopsy.

During a biopsy, a member of our team numbs the area so we can take a small tissue sample of the mole for microscopic examination. It’s essentially painless and only takes a moment. We then create a treatment strategy based on the biopsy results, which may simply mean keeping a close eye on the mole if the biopsy is negative for cancerous changes.

If you’re concerned about a mole or just want help examining those moles you can’t see, schedule a mole check at Elite Dermatology & Plastic Surgery. Your health is our No. 1 priority.