The medical term for a mole is a nevus. Congenital nevi are moles present at birth and acquired nevi may develop anytime later. Any change in the growth pattern, color, surface texture or onset of pain, bleeding, or itching are concerning symptoms. These should prompt a thorough evaluation by a Dermatologist to exclude the diagnosis of melanoma.
Only a few babies, 1 in 100, are born with what is known as a congenital nevus. These can vary in size from being less than 1/4 inch to covering almost the entire body. Large nevi can vary greatly in size, shape, color, surface texture, and hairiness. Some are reddish-tan; others are almost black. Most are shades of brown. Congenital moles will grow in proportion to body growth.
Giant congenital nevi are those that measure 10 cm or more at birth and occur in about one in every 20,000 children. It is recommended that a Dermatologist examine these particular nevi on a yearly basis.
Most moles that are acquired during life are usually less than 1/4 inch in size. Many moles that begin in childhood and early adult life are now thought to be due to sun damage. We often think of a mole as a brown spot, but moles have many other appearances. They can be flat or raised and range in color from normal skin to dark brown. The presence of hair in a mole does not make it more dangerous.
Moles may darken under certain circumstances, especially with sun exposure and pregnancy. Moles that appear after age 50 should be examined carefully with suspicion.
Atypical moles (Dysplastic Nevi)
An estimated 1 in 10 Americans have at least one atypical mole. These moles are often larger than common moles, with irregular and poorly defined borders. Atypical moles also vary in color, ranging from tan to dark brown shades. They may fade into surrounding skin and include a flat portion level with the skin. These are some of the features that one sees when looking at a melanoma. A Dermatologist is an expert skilled at differentiating atypical nevi from melanoma.
How to examine your skin:
It is important to look for the warning signs of melanoma. Use the method of ABCDE's of melanoma detection for skin exams: Asymmetry, Borders, Color, Diameter, and Evolving (changing). If a mole has any of these signs, a Dermatologist must check it promptly.
A - Asymmetry
One half is unlike the other half.
B - Border
Irregular, scalloped, or poorly circumscribed border.
C - Color
Different in one area compared to another; shades of tan and brown, black; sometimes white, red or blue.
D - Diameter
While melanomas are usually greater than 6mm in diameter (the size of a pencil eraser) when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
E - Evolution (changing)
If you notice a mole different from others (the "ugly duckling sign"), or new changes such as rapid growth, itching, or bleeding, you should see a Dermatologist.
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