What is a mole?
A mole is a collection of pigment cells present within the skin. These cells are known as melanocytes. Sometimes moles are referred to their scientific term melanocytic naevi. They are extremely common. Most people are born with a few moles and develop others during their lives hey vary in size from some barely visible to large covering virtually the entire body (termed bathing trunk naevi).
What causes moles?
Most moles are simply the result of a harmless overgrowth of the pigment cells within the deeper layer of the skin. Most moles develop spontaneously or are caused by exposure to sunlight and tend to appear on those areas of the skin that catch the most sunlight – usually the trunk/arms and legs.
Most of these moles appear during the first 20 years of life, although they may continue to develop into the 30s and 40s. However, the majority disappear with age.
Why are moles a concern?
The main worry with moles is that a small number may go on to develop a form of skin cancer so called malignant melanoma. This form of skin cancer, which can be fatal, is best spotted early and treated with surgical excision (i.e. it is cut out of the skin).
Who is at risk?
The presence of moles should not cause you serious problems. But large numbers, more than 25, are an indication of susceptibility to melanoma. So you should take great care about exposure to sunlight.
If there is a family history of malignant melanoma, you should be particularly vigilant about changing moles.
What are the symptoms of malignancy?
The mole is itchy and painful – for no obvious reason
Increased size or an increasingly irregular appearance, especially at the edges.
A change in colour, particularly if the mole gets darker or becomes mottled.
Satellite pigmented lesions, i.e. new moles develop extend beyond the original mole
How is malignancy diagnosed?
Although most changes in the size, shape and colour of moles are due to a benign, non-cancerous increase in number of pigment cells, any mole that looks unusual should be examined. Your doctor will probably request information on recent changes to the mole along with a family history to assess your risk.
If only mild changes are found, your doctor will usually only need to take a clinical photograph of it or measure it and ask you to keep an eye on it. The mole's appearance may be reviewed in a later appointment. But if your doctor is concerned then they may choose to refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist) for assessment and possible removal.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to sunlight, particularly during the two hours on either side of midday when the sun’s rays are strongest, and avoid getting sunburn.
- Keep covered up in sunlight and apply sunscreen on exposed skin.
- Examine your moles regularly and get someone to check those you cannot see.
Other Types of Moles
Dysplastic Naevus Syndrome
Some large moles have an irregular outline and an indistinct border. These carry an increased risk of malignancy and tend to occur in families who have a history of malignant melanoma. Patients with such moles need to have them examined regularly and compared with clinical photographs.
We are able to offer mole screening for high risk individuals or those with a strong family history of skin cancer. This provides reassurance but allows the early diagnosis of potential skin cancer and their early management.
If there is a major worry regarding a lesion then an urgent appointment can be organised to see us either by calling our PA Sue Grange 01293 778968 or requesting your GP to send an urgent fax