Are Moles Dangerous to My Health?

Nov 01, 2023
Are Moles Dangerous to My Health?
Most people have moles, and most moles are completely harmless. But not all moles are the same — certain kinds increase your melanoma risk simply because they’re more likely to change into atypical moles. Here’s what you should know. 

Most newborns don’t have a single mole or nevus. Most adults, on the other hand, have a few — if not dozens — of moles or nevi. As the most common type of skin lesion, these so-called “beauty marks” typically begin appearing in childhood; many people continue developing new moles until age 40. 

Most moles are completely harmless. Sometimes, however, a new or changing mole can cause concern. Why? Atypical moles are a possible indication of the most aggressive and deadliest form of skin cancer: melanoma.

As board-certified dermatologists who offer comprehensive mole evaluations and skin cancer screenings at Florida Dermatology Associates, our expert team encourages you to give us a call any time you notice a suspicious mole. Here’s what that means. 

Most people have moles 

Known by the medical term nevus (nevi in the plural), a mole is a pigmented skin lesion or an epidermal growth that consists of pigmented skin cells (melanocytes). They’re more common than age spots (lentigines), sun freckles, and other pigmented lesions.  

You can get moles anywhere on your skin or mucous membranes, but they’re more likely to develop on sun-exposed skin. Moles usually start appearing in childhood, and many people continue seeing new ones up until around age 40. 

Understanding mole types

The average adult has between one and three dozen nevi, and some people have many more. Most moles are normal and harmless, but not all are the same. Let’s take a closer look:

Common moles

Common nevi are the harmless moles most people acquire on their skin over time. While many are evenly pigmented (pink, tan, brown, or black), common moles can also match their surrounding skin tone. They’re typically:

  • Flat and smooth-textured
  • Perfectly round or oval-shaped 
  • Smaller than a pencil eraser
  • Surrounded by a distinct edge 

Many common moles never change, while others may become slightly raised as time goes on, gradually lighten, or even slowly fade away. Most common moles are acquired, meaning they weren’t there when you were born and appeared on your skin later in life. 

Congenital moles

One in 100 people (1%) have congenital nevi, or moles on their skin at birth. Large congenital moles are associated with an increased risk of melanoma. 

Spitz moles 

These rare moles usually develop in the first 20 years of life and are more likely to grow on children than adults. Spitz nevi — raised and dome-shaped — look like melanoma, and dermatologists can’t tell the difference with a visual inspection. They may be pink, red, brown, or black; they may also bleed or have an opening that oozes.    

Dysplastic moles 

A dysplastic mole doesn’t look like a common nevus. Also called atypical moles, these nevi may: 

  • Feel pebbly or rough to the touch  
  • Contain a mixture of pigment shades
  • Be more than a quarter inch across
  • Have irregular or notched borders

An estimated one in 10 people (10%) in the United States have at least one dysplastic mole. People who have a lot of nevi are more likely to have a higher number of dysplastic nevi, too.

Detecting atypical moles

Dysplastic moles are atypical because they can look like melanoma — but they aren’t necessarily melanoma. While dysplastic nevi rarely change and become cancerous, they’re more likely than common moles to turn into a melanoma. 

They can be a significant risk factor for melanoma: Someone with more than five dysplastic moles is ten times more likely to develop this aggressive skin cancer compared to someone with no dysplastic nevi. 

Dysplastic nevi don’t necessarily require removal. They do, however, require regular monitoring to check for changes over time. Here’s why: Even though most melanomas (about 70%) start in unmarked skin areas, some melanomas (about 30%) begin in an existing mole — and in most of these cases, they appear as a changing dysplastic mole.   

The ABCDEs of melanoma can help you spot concerning changes in an atypical dysplastic mole or any other suspicious mole: 

  • Asymmetry: one side doesn’t match the other
  • Border: has irregular, faded, or ill-defined edges
  • Color: appears to have more than one color 
  • Diameter: is more than a quarter inch across 
  • Evolution: changes rapidly (size, color, shape)

When in doubt, have us check it out: Any change in a mole’s size, shape, or color is cause for concern, especially if that change seems to have happened quickly. A new mole that suddenly appears after the age of 30 can also be a sign of melanoma, as can a bleeding, itchy, oozing, or crusting nevus (although most Spitz moles are not cancerous).  

To schedule a mole evaluation or skin cancer screening, call your nearest Florida Dermatology Associates office in Palm Bay, Cocoa Beach, Cocoa, Melbourne, or Titusville, Florida, today, or click online to book an appointment any time.