Moles are classically recognized as a common type of skin spot or blemish which can be slightly raised or flat, skin colored, various shades of brown, purple, red or black in appearance. Most moles will be smaller than half an inch; however, some can be larger although this is less common.
Some moles are likely to resemble freckles or skin tags, and often times will be mistaken as such. It is thought that moles mostly appear by the age of 30, so the appearance of a new mole should be discussed with a healthcare professional. Moles can appear almost anywhere on the body and can become darker when exposed to sunlight or during pregnancy.
Genetics play a key role in the development of moles, along with exposure to sunlight particularly in early childhood. The more sunlight your skin is exposed to, the more moles a person will tend to have. However, moles also can occur in areas of the body which do not regularly get much exposure to sunlight, and it is likely that these moles are a result of genetics.
Moles are not to be mistaken for freckles, which mostly occur when the skin is directly exposed to sunlight but are also genetic. Freckles are caused when skin is exposed to sunlight, increasing the melanin production in certain areas more so than others. Freckles become darker than the surrounding skin, which makes them more prominent. Freckles mostly occur in those with fair skin, but can also occur in every race and skin color and should not be a cause for concern.
There are currently three different types of mole:
Regular moles are the most common type of mole, mostly they are benign or harmless. Typically, they are symmetrical, have a uniform color with a regular border and are half an inch or smaller in size. Some may have hair growing in them, which is perfectly normal and not indicative of cancer.
Irregular moles are classified as asymmetrically shaped with an irregular border, not uniform in color and tend to be larger than half an inch in size. Irregular moles also tend to be flatter in shape or completely flat against the skin.
The number of irregular moles on the skin is thought to possibly increase the overall threat of melanoma development; 20 to 25 irregular moles are an indicator of this increased risk. Larger moles, usually over 8 inches in size, also increase the risk of developing melanoma.
While the presence of irregular moles anywhere on the body can indicate an increased risk of melanoma development, it is rare that they become cancerous on their own.
Melanomas, more commonly known as cancerous moles, are extremely irregular and asymmetrical in shape. While it is unusual and very rare for regular and irregular moles to develop into cancerous moles on their own over time, it is worth checking any moles you have over time to see if they change in shape or color. This is especially important for those who have a total of more than 50 moles on their body.
To know if what you are looking for in regards to changing moles, follow the ABCDE rules -
Always check thoroughly on skin that is more exposed to sunlight than other areas, such as the face, shoulders, lower legs, and ears. Always make sure to apply sun protection if you are in the sun and take regular photographs of any moles you notice changing.
A combination of genetics and sun exposure are the reason moles occur on the skin. If you are genetically more predisposed to have a larger number of moles and also are exposed to a lot of sunlight, it is likely the reason.
If you have over 50 moles on your body or more, you should take extra care in the sun and monitor your moles carefully to ensure any changes can be identified quickly.
Having many regular moles or irregular moles on the skin does not indicate that you are likely to experience cancerous moles, but the occurrence of more than 20 to 25 irregular moles it does increase your risk of developing melanoma, which, if exposed to a lot of sunlight, can become cancerous over time. However, it is vitally important to stress how rare it is that irregular moles will develop into cancerous moles of their own accord.
Moles are an incredibly common skin occurrence that usually develops before the age of 30. They are categorized mostly as benign skin blemishes or spots, which can range in color and size. Most moles are largely uniform in appearance, color, and texture and should cause no concern unless they begin to change in shape, color or size.
Irregular moles, while not usually a cause for concern in themselves, should be monitored closely when in the sun and extra protection should be taken to ensure they do not begin to change in shape, color or size. Having a large number of irregular moles, especially 20 to 25 on the body, may be an indicator of future melanoma risk, but rarely do these become cancerous on their own.
Having more than 50 moles across the body is also an indication for an increased risk of melanoma and those with 50+ moles should strive to document and track the shape, size and color of as many as they can, especially in sunlight exposed areas of the body such as ears, face, neck, shoulders and legs.
An increased number of moles does not mean that your chances of developing cancer are heightened but as the risk of melanoma occurrence does become higher with a larger number of moles, these extra health and safety steps should be taken in the affected areas: